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Jaiden Cioffi hoping to recoup lost time on field in baseball

LA PLUME — Jaiden Cioffi had one pitching outing of his freshman baseball at Misericordia before COVID-19 canceled spring sports. Just one.

The St. John Neumann graduate threw up his arms as he recounted what was supposed to be his first season of collegiate baseball. Instead of spending time on the baseball field getting used to the college game and getting his first action on the mound, Cioffi binged through a couple series on Netflix, stuck indoors like everyone else through quarantine.

Sure, he tried to get outside to throw to keep his arm loose. But he couldn’t get on the field at Brandon Park to actually pitch until recently.

Cioffi is hoping to recoup some of the time he lost on the field this summer by being one of the more than 140 players participating in the Baseball U PA Summer Collegiate league in Scranton. It’s an amateur summer wood bat league for those players who have college eligibility remaining. It was the idea of Mike Guy, the owner of Baseball U PA, which is a travel baseball organization.

With the cancellation of most summer college leagues, Guy saw an opening to give players some semblance of a season after the NCAA canceled all spring sports amid the coronavirus pandemic. Several area athletes have found a home in the six-team league which runs through the first week of August.

Cioffi pitched in a game for the first time since his lone collegiate outing Tuesday. That outing for Misericordia came on March 3. When he pitched for BUPA Orange on Tuesday, his one inning of work didn’t feel natural at all. But just being back on the mound at Keystone College’s Christy Mathewson Field was enough to have him energized.

“I was warming up in the pen and I was a nervous wreck,” Cioffi said. “But once I got the first couple pitches down, I got in the groove and I felt like a player again. I felt like a pitcher.”

This summer is about picking up some of the time Cioffi lost in his development. For recent high school graduates like Loyalsock’s Dane Armson or Montoursville’s Logan Ott, this summer is about preparing themselves for their first collegiate season next spring.

Ott was given the ball as the starter for BUPA Orange on Tuesday and the first batter he faced was Virginia Tech’s starting shortstop. The third hitter he faced was a draft pick of the Colorado Rockies coming out of high school.

Armson faced a pair of Division I hitters in his one inning and struck one out with his fastball touching 90 mph. Ott struck out two hitters in his 2 1/3 innings before a pitch-count limit ended his outing. And Cioffi also struck out a pair of fellow Division III hitters he could see in the future with the Cougars.

While neither of the three are pitchers could offer much more than a shoulder shrug at their start to their summer season, they all admitted it was a positive start. They combined for 4 1/3 shutout innings.

“This is more about development for me,” Armson said. “I’ve put on a lot of weight in the weight room and I worked with my pitching coach a lot. So I’ve done the work by myself, and now it’s about seeing what I can do.”

“We’ve been thinking about getting out here for months,” Ott said. “This is great. I wish I could have thrown more than 40 pitches. But that was great competition against good college players.”

Both Armson and Ott put their focus during quarantine on getting bigger in the weight room. The hope is both could find some extra ticks on their fastball. And for their first outing, they got just that.

Armson was one of the few pitchers in Tuesday’s game who touched 90 mph. Ott topped out at 89 mph and sat in the 84-87 range.

The secondary offerings for both weren’t quite refined, but pitching to hitters with wood bats allowed them to get away with any mistakes they made more easily. And for all three players, it was a positive start to a few weeks of baseball which hopefully helps them grow into the collegiate pitchers they want to be come next spring.

“It’s definitely a good base and something to grow off of,” Armson said. “Hopefully I can put on a few more miles per hour on that 90 and be sitting at 90 by the end of the summer.”

“It felt good being out here. Iron sharpens iron and you have to have that mentality to get better,” Cioffi said. “Nothing is going to make you better like facing good competition. And it’s great they started this league to give us a chance to do that.”

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