After having his college season cut short and amid a busy training schedule at West Point, Hopkinton’s Tim Simoes was more than willing to drive halfway across the country for the chance to get in a couple weeks of summer baseball.
Simoes spent two weeks with the Bismarck Larks of the Northwoods League and adjusted well to seeing live pitching for the first time in months. The rising senior at Army hit a grand slam in his first at-bat with the Larks and added two more home runs in a game a few days later. In 15 at-bats over five games, he finished with a .333 batting average with three home runs and nine RBIs. He reached base four more times via walks and getting hit by a pitch, giving him an on-base percentage of .474. He had a .933 slugging percentage and a 1.407 OPS (on-base plus slugging), both of which are by far the best on the team.
“It’s been great to get an opportunity to play and get back in some games, Simoes said during his time in North Dakota, “and to see a new part of the country has been really cool.”
With the pandemic far from over, Simoes had to take some precautions to make sure he could play baseball this summer. When he arrived in Bismarck, he quarantined in a hotel room awaiting his COVID-19 test results. He then moved in with a host family and got a taste of what life is like in the Midwest.
He said there were fewer people wearing masks in North Dakota, but also far fewer cases. Despite a recent uptick, as of July 14 the Peace Garden State had seen around 4,500 confirmed cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus and fewer than 100 deaths. The rate of infection, even when adjusted for the smaller population, is about half that of Simoes’ home state.
The result has been some semblance of normalcy at the ballpark.
“The team is doing a really good job,” he said. “They are opening the stadium to fans. They normally get around 2,000 people every night but they are limiting it this year and hovering around 800 or 900 and spreading people out.”
The vast Northwoods League, which includes teams in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and other Midwestern states, has been divided into smaller pods in an effort to limit travel and minimize the risk of exposure. The Larks are playing the other two North Dakota teams in that group (the Bismarck Bull Moose and the Mandan Flickertails).
Restaurants and shopping centers are open with restrictions in place, and he was able to play some golf with his teammates in between games.
Simoes is heading into his senior year at Army after only playing 15 games during his junior campaign before the season came to a sudden halt. Simoes had been off to a strong start, hitting .306 with seven RBIs and 11 runs scored and earning Patriot League Player of the Week in the season’s opening week.
“It was definitely frustrating, you just feel heartbroken for the seniors and the guys who are probably never going to play competitive baseball again at such a high level,” he said. “To see it end so quickly and without warning is sad, but certainly there are bigger issues in the world.”
Still, Simoes noted the many lost opportunities for the team, which was on its spring break trip to Florida when the plug was pulled on the season.
“Things were going well and we were jelling as a team,” he said. “We lost out on the chance to play our big league games and play Navy and make a run at a league championship.”
Simoes is hoping to have some sense of normal returned by the time his own senior season comes along in the spring of 2021. In the meantime, he’s heading back to West Point after his short but memorable stint in North Dakota.
“This is the first chance I have gotten to play summer ball,” Simoes said. “It’s one of the reasons I was willing to come all the way out here for a couple of weeks, to have that experience, and it has been worth it.”