When Joey Machado walked off the Seymour Smith Park mound on March 6, 2020, the junior had just completed six shutout innings against Portland. Machado picked up the win and recorded six strikeouts, along with limiting the Pilots to just one hit in the outing. Everything seemed normal and the Mavericks were off to a strong start in what looked to be a promising 2020 season.
Just one day later, the Mavericks played what ended up being their final game in more than 11 months. Machado and his teammates had no clue what would await them in the ensuing offseason.
“It was a little different when our season ended,” he said. “Normally we’re playing until the summertime, so just trying to figure out what we had to do and be in contact with coaches as much as we could with NCAA rules.
“It was challenging with COVID, but just to try and get around and do what you can was the hardest part. You had to get creative.”
Machado, who describes himself as a weird individual, says nothing he does in life or on the mound is conventional, so this offseason has really put that to the test. It’s been tough at times not having a traditional offseason to get ready for this season, but he’s taken it upon himself to find ways to continue to get better.
“It’s a little challenging, but you kind of have to take it day by day,” he said. “What I’ve been able to do is kind of take a step back from everything and imagine myself on the mound each weekend and at each field.”
In the weeks leading up to the 2021 season, Machado has found himself looking up pictures with the view from the home plate to the mound of where he’ll potentially be pitching this season. It’ll be different with fewer fans in the stands and COVID protocols in place, but Machado has still tried to mentally prepare as much as possible.
Between scrimmages in the fall and live hitting this winter, Machado admits it’s also gotten a little tiring constantly facing teammates. Everyone on the Omaha roster is excited to finally face another team, which they’ll be able to do this weekend against the Oregon Ducks.
“Everyone is just itching to play, especially going to Oregon to kickstart the year,” Machado said. “Hopefully no one tests positive where they can’t travel because everyone is just so excited to play. Not everyone had the chance to play summer ball or get the year started in the summer, so just to play someone else will be exciting.”
However, before any fall practices or winter workouts began, Machado had to get creative to live up to his ‘get better every day’ mindset. When the city first started to shut down and put restrictions in place back in the spring, he and his roommates mounted a net on their front porch and threw into it from their street.
Machado joked that during the late spring and early summer months people walked by confused and asked what they were doing on a regular basis.
“It was quite an interesting setup,” Machado said. “We live in an old house, so we have a front porch with two pillars right in front. We had a batting cage net that we drilled hooks on the side of and hung it up with clips. It’s a funny setup, but it’s what we had to do during these times.”
Another part of responding to those puzzled faces was telling those curious onlookers that they played baseball at UNO. From the time Machado joined the program in 2017 until now, it’s crazy how much of a different feel there is around the program. There’s also a bigger sense of pride.
“We’re getting recognized a lot more than when I started here or even when I was in high school, but it’s crazy and it’s awesome,” he said. “There’s definitely more recognition than there ever was and it’s kudos to all of our coaches for what they’ve been able to do to recruit, coach us, and make us better individuals every single day.”
A Creighton Prep graduate, Machado is no stranger to baseball within the city. It’s still crazy how much momentum there currently is around the UNO baseball brand. The new stadium is a big part of it, but it’s a process that’s been a few years in the making.
Expectations are high for the group heading into 2021. Before the remainder of the 2020 season was canceled, the Mavericks were off to a 10-4 start. Omaha also won both the regular season and Summit League Tournament in 2019.
At the same time, with having so much time off, it almost feels like a complete restart.
“It almost felt like last year was a complete wash,” Machado said. “Just with how it ended and everyone itching to get back playing. With everyone having the time off, everyone wanted to get even better than what they were last season.”
That’s been a focus since the season came to a halt in mid-March. As a senior leader on this roster, Machado said he wants to be known as one of the hardest workers and just be the best pitcher he can. Those expectations all go back to the idea of getting better every day.
“Just be the best I can be and be me,” Machado said. “I’m a weird pitcher, I’m a weird individual, so just be my individual self out there.
“Compete as much as I can, give my entire heart out on the field, and that’s just kind of how I am as a person and how I am out on the mound. Nothing I do is conventional.”
Just like his mindset on the mound, nothing this offseason has been conventional. At the same time, with the 2021 season finally here, Machado hopefully won’t have to find himself throwing from his street much longer.