For Jordan head coach Bryan Whitfield, the opportunity for the Panthers to take the field this season is a lot bigger than baseball. He believes his team has some talent, but is focused on giving his seniors a chance to make some lasting memories while giving his entire team a much-needed escape from the challenges of the past 13 months.
Whitfield says he has a handful of players who have had to pick up jobs to help support their families through the pandemic, and with additional players opting out due to COVID concerns, he’s down more than a dozen players within the program.
“It’s been a challenge to get kids to come to practice, and a lot of them have been hit bad because of COVID,” Whitfield explained. “A lot of parents opted out because they didn’t know what was going to happen. The stories were so touching about the adversity they were dealing with. It really hit my soul. These kids are living a different life and there’s no playbook for this.”
With a solid crop of seniors on the roster, that’s where Whitfield says his focus will be this season. After the 2020 campaign was abruptly cut short, those seniors who were unable to finish out their careers have offered encouragement to this year’s departing class, reminding them that nothing is promised.
“I’m just catering to the seniors and giving them a chance to play and do what they’re supposed to do,” said Whitfield. “Mental health is really killing my kids. They need to have an opportunity to be kids again. My players have grown and matured, but I want them to be kids. They should be experiencing having fun with their friends and enjoying the moment. I’m just trying to give these kids an outlet so they can have fun and play and be able to experience high school baseball.”
One of the main seniors on the J-Town roster is left-handed starting pitcher Randy Roman Nunez (pictured). The veteran southpaw is a strike-thrower with a fastball, curveball, change-up pitch mix, and Whitfield says the Panthers will go as far as he can take them.
Backing him up in the infield will be speedy senior shortstop Steven Huddleston, whose range up the middle will be valuable for the Panthers defensively. Senior Jaylen Channel is the cleanup batter for Jordan and will man centerfield this season. At second base, the coach’s son Bryan Whitfield will man the keystone. The junior has gotten stronger and faster during the offseason and will look to be a key contributor for the Panthers.
Jordan has had a limited non-league schedule so far, but got off to a 2-0 start with road wins over St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy, 10-3, and at Dominguez, 8-6. The Panthers will play their home games at Houghton Park this season, and will get tested immediately at the start of league play, visiting Poly on Wednesday before hosting Millikan just two days later.
The 2021 season will be the fifth with Whitfield and assistant coach Marcus McCain overseeing the program. And even with the challenging circumstances surrounding this season, the Panthers are hungry to play ball this season.
“We’re going to compete as hard as we can,” Whitlock stated. “We may not be as talented as other teams in the Moore League, but we’re going to give everybody hell in this league. We’re going to be a small ball team, execute the bunt game, and if pitchers throw strikes, we’re going to be in games. That’s all we want. We want the kids to play to the best of their ability.”