Norm Churchill and Joe Pacheco, co-owners of the Colorado Springs Outlaws collegiate summer baseball team, are ready to get started. The main obstacle standing in their way is the coronavirus.
Their 25-man roster includes 22 players who played for Pikes Peak area high schools, many from District 20, District 12 and District 38 and District 11.
“We’re not going to defy an executive order from the government,” said Churchill, a former pitching coach at Pine Creek High School and longtime Black Forest resident. “We’re trying to wait as long as we can to make a decision on our season. We want to see how this all plays out.”
Churchill pitched five seasons in the Chicago Cubs organization before embarking on a long career in the Air Force. Pacheco pitched collegiately at NCAA Division II New Mexico Highlands University. They have been planning the Outlaws’ season for months.
Their plans were put on hold on March 12 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports.
“We’re kind of at the mercy of the governor,” Pacheco said. “We’re all on hold until somebody says go.”
The Outlaws play in the Rocky Mountain Baseball League. The league includes teams in Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder, Broomfield and even Kansas. The season normally runs late May to mid-July.
This season is supposed to get underway May 27, but given the current restrictions, there is no set date for a start, or if there will be a season at all. The Outlaws are hoping to play a 30-to-40 game regular season.
“With the COVID-19 situation, we are still in the decision phase on whether our league will play this summer,” Churchill said. “The virus has posed multiple issues for us and other teams in summer collegiate leagues, like lost sponsorships, possible fields unavailable, player/parent concerns, etc.”
For the time being, the Outlaws have secured the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs as their home field. But that won’t happen if UCCS remains closed for the summer. Many of the Outlaws play for UCCS, coached by former major leaguer Dave Hajek.
Last week, Churchill and Pacheco met with Rocky Mountain Vibes officials to inquire about the possibility of using UCHealth Park as a home field if there is no minor league season this summer. The Outlaws don’t have the budget to rent out the facility, even if games were played during the day without the additional cost of stadium lights, etc.
Vibes general manager Chris Phillips said he is open to the idea of having the Outlaws use the park, but he noted that there are financial hurdles to clear. Vibes staff would need to be on hand to facilitate basic game-day functions such as the stadium scoreboard, field preparation, post-game cleanup, etc.
“We need to focus on generating revenue right now,” Phillips said.
Most Outlaws players are either in their respective college cities and towns finishing up spring semester classes online or back home in the Pikes Peak region finishing classes online. The players are hoping they can lace up their cleats and put on their mitts sooner than later.
“This is my last chance to play summer league baseball before I enter the workforce,” said Andrew Churchill, Norm’s son and a former Rampart star who was in his senior year at Bellevue University in Omaha, Neb., when the NAIA canceled the season. “Coming into my last couple of years of college I was really looking forward to playing a lot. I still hope we can this summer after missing the spring.”
The Outlaws franchise dates to the 2018 season when it came into existence under the name of the Arena Gladiators of the Mile High Collegiate Baseball League. In 2018, they were known as the Colorado Springs Renegade of the MHCBL. They went 22-10 and came within a game of advancing to the National Baseball Congress World Series.
“Summer baseball is that bridge between college spring and fall ball,” Norm Churchill said. “Our hope is that we can get guys a lot of reps this summer. Upwards of 100 at-bats if they are a position player. If they are a pitcher, we can get them plenty of innings without overworking them. We work with the college coaches.”
Added Pacheco: “We teach them how to manage their mental game as well. If a player wants to find out how much better they can get, this is the place to do it. We want them to go out and play fast, play hard and not be afraid to fail. It’s only a mistake if they didn’t learn from it. Go out and become a better player and push yourself. This is a great place to do it.”