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story.lead_photo.caption Josef Keilholz, a Fatima High School graduate, fields a ground ball during the Jefferson City Renegades' practice Tuesday afternoon at Vivion Field. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

MINK League baseball will be back at Vivion Field this summer, and with a full slate of games after the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.

The Jefferson City Renegades begin their 2021 season tonight with a road game against the Sedalia Bombers and then will host the Nevada Griffons for their home opener Thursday. The start time for both games is 7 p.m.

"This is a good baseball community, and I hope we can bring some good baseball and try to get back to normal," Renegades manager Mike DeMilia said.

Although there were no official MINK League games last season, the Renegades did host a handful of intrasquad scrimmages, allowing players an opportunity to take the field for a few nights.

"It's just nice to get back in the swing of things," outfielder Tommy Ruether said. "I was here last summer when we did the scrimmages, but it just didn't feel the same.

"I'm glad we get to come out here and live with these great families that open up their houses to us, they really treat us like family."

A handful of players on the 2021 Jefferson City roster are returners from the team that played two seasons ago.

"Mike reached out to me in November and asked if I wanted to come back," first baseman Carter Mize said. "It didn't take me but five minutes to think about it. I love Vivion and I love the fans that come out here. I couldn't turn it down."

There will also be several players who grew up playing high school ball in the Jefferson City area that will be suiting up for the Renegades this summer.

"We have a few more local guys than we normally do, which is not a bad thing at all," DeMilia said. "It was a plan of ours to do that, and mix in some guys from other parts of the country. It's always interesting to see how they mesh."

Players got together for light practices Monday night and Tuesday afternoon at Vivion Field. Players took their cuts during batting practice and fielded some grounders as a quick tuneup for the opener.

"It's just introductory, going around and shaking everybody's hand, try to start remembering the names," Ruether said. "We're shaking the dust off."

Some players have had close to a month off since their last college game, and for others, it has only been a week or two.

"At Missouri Baptist, I basically got to play every game," Mize said. "I was a little beat up at the end of the year, but I'm a baseball junkie. I was ready to get back out there."

And some are still playing in their college seasons. The Renegades will start the season without a few players, as Central Methodist is playing in the NAIA World Series in Idaho and Crowder College is playing in the NJCAA World Series in Colorado.

"We'll welcome them with open arms, we'll be excited to have them," said Ruether, who played this past season at State Fair Community College and will play next spring at Missouri S&T. "I obviously don't want them to get here any sooner than they want to. I'm happy for all of them, I played with a lot of Central Methodist kids."

DeMilia said the Renegades will have 16 full-time pitchers and 16 position players, but four of those position players can both pitch and play the field in the wood bat league.

"The first few games will have a different feel, but by the end of the year, it will feel just like regular baseball," DeMilia said.

Vivion Field will host its first MINK League All-Star Game on Thursday, July 8, as the top players from all eight teams will converge on Jefferson City for one night.

"The All-Star Game is such a cool environment," said Ruether, who was a MINK League All-Star in 2019. "You do so much fun stuff. You have the home run derby, and you might see a player from a big Division I school that you might not have the opportunity to meet again."

The MINK League will again consist of eight teams. However, the Des Moines Peak Prospects are a newcomer to the league, taking the place of the Ozark Generals.

The Renegades will be in the South Division with Sedalia, the Joplin Outlaws and the Nevada Griffons. Des Moines will be in the North Division with the Chillicothe Mudcats, the Clarinda A's and the St. Joseph Mustangs, who are the defending league champions.

The season began Sunday, with Clarinda defeating Des Moines 9-6.

"I can't wait to play," Mize said. " I'm ready to get over there and give (Sedalia) the first 'L' of the season."

Following Jefferson City's 41-game regular-season schedule, the MINK League playoffs will begin July 26, with the championship series between the division champions wrapping up the season July 29-31.

"You meet as strangers and you leave as brothers," Ruether said. "You gotta love it."

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