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Pandemic hits home for former Georgia baseball star Aaron Schunk

Georgia infielder Aaron Schunk (22) celebrates two outs during an NCAA regional game against  Florida State Saturday, June 1, 2019, in Athens.
Georgia infielder Aaron Schunk (22) celebrates two outs during an NCAA regional game against Florida State Saturday, June 1, 2019, in Athens.

Credit: Kristin M. Bradshaw

Credit: Kristin M. Bradshaw

The pandemic has hit home with Aaron Schunk. Quite literally.

The former Georgia baseball star, who received a $1.1 million signing bonus as a second-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies a year ago, currently lives in the same bedroom of his parents’ Decatur home where he grew up.

Very little has changed since he last lived there. Schunk does weekly yardwork and household chores for his parents and goes to Medlock Park almost every day with his dad to take batting practice, field some grounders and throw a few pitches.

In a way, he said, it’s kind of wonderful.

“That’s what I did from the time I was 3½ years old to probably 13,” said Schunk, who won the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award as a junior at Georgia in 2019. “My dad (Eric Schunk) was always my coach and is actually pretty good at throwing BP. So that’s nice. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to stay sharp.”

Schunk finds himself in the same predicament as hundreds of other minor leaguers across the country. He has nowhere to play at the moment and doesn't know when next he will.

While Major League Baseball is set to begin a 60-game schedule on July 23, the decision was made to keep minor leagues grounded. So unless a player is included in a team’s 60-man pool for the ongoing, shortened preseason training period, he has nowhere to play or practice.

That’s particularly tough news for Schunk and players like him. While he’s a very promising prospect who might have otherwise performed his way up to the Show this year, he's not yet in position to claim a automatic spot on the major-league roster.

Schunk hit .306 playing 46 games for the Boise Hawks during his first Class A season last summer and arrived at spring training in Arizona as one of the Rockies’ young players to watch.

In fact, Schunk and three fellow Rockies’ rookies got together and went to Arizona early. They rented a house in Scottsdale and were working out together for a month before the scheduled reporting date for spring training.

That turned out to be valuable time. Schunk got in only about three days of work before spring training was shut down in mid-March along with every sport in the country due the rapidly-spreading pandemic. Baseball has been in wait-and-see mode since then and only recently decided to press on with what’s left of a major-league season.

“It’s definitely been a crazy, crazy year,” Schunk said in a telephone interview this week. “It was almost a year ago exactly when I signed my contract. I was making some good jumps, then we got sent home. Now I’m just trying to do what I can five or six days a week to stay sharp.”

That’s where Medlock Park has been a godsend. A small recreational park in the North Decatur area, it has been a recreational sports outlet for Atlantans since the 1950s with youth baseball and football leagues and Medlock Pool nearby.

It’s on those baseball fields that Schunk works out about 90 minutes a day with his father, Eric. They throw for about 15 to 20 minutes, Schunk hits off a tee for a while, then his dad pitches batting practice.

Schunk said his father actually rivals Georgia coach Scott Stricklin in the art of throwing good BP, which is incredibly important to any serious hitter. But it hasn't come without some aches and pains.

“The first two weeks he said his arm felt like it was going to fall off,” Schunk said of his 53-year-old father. “He was waking my mom up at night screaming in pain. But it’s gotten better. Now he thinks his arm might be in the best shape it’s ever been in. He’s gotten stronger.”

Former Georgia star Aaron Schunk (L), a minor leaguer in the Colorado Rockies organization, hits batting practice off throws from his father, Eric, in a batting cage at Medlock Park in Decatur. (Family photo)
Former Georgia star Aaron Schunk (L), a minor leaguer in the Colorado Rockies organization, hits batting practice off throws from his father, Eric, in a batting cage at Medlock Park in Decatur. (Family photo)

Schunk believes he has as well. He has been running at least a mile a day to stay in condition and he lifts weights several days a week at the home of his girlfriend's parents.

“They have kind of a garage gym that we have, over the quarantine, built up into a pretty formidable gym,” said Schunk, whose girlfriend is Meredith Bond. “So I’ve been getting workouts in five or six days a week. Just trying to keep in condition and keep baseball sharp. But it’s been weird, man, just not knowing what’s next, not having a date to look forward to, not knowing when you’re going to play next.”

Schunk said there has been internal talk about some kind of regional instructional league for minor leaguers populated in certain areas. But otherwise there has been very little information passed along to minor league players.

“They’re really not sure and that’s the hard part,” Schunk said. “We’re kind of at the mercy of the virus.”

As is everybody.

Schunk is still getting paid his minor league salary by the Rockies, which he said is about $400 a week. In the meantime, Schunk is trying to find enjoyment in reliving his past.

He has found a kind of poetic symmetry in living back at home with his father, mother Sandra Switzer and 18-year-old brother, Towner.

“I’m very thankful that they’ve let me come back and move back into my old room,” Schunk said. “I’ve been put to work in the yard and the house with lots of different little jobs and odds and ends to pay for my rent. But it’s really kind of awesome having the whole family back together again. And I have a new-found respect for mowing the lawn. It’s kind of therapeutic.”