Robert Neustrom remembers his moment being called up.
When he was called into the manager’s office, he knew something really good or really bad was going to happen.
Things had been going well for the former Hawkeye outfielder, and before he knew it, he found himself promoted in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor league system.
But this year, he hasn’t enjoyed those same successes. Neither has former Iowa pitcher and current member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization Nick Allgeyer. Neither has any former Hawkeye in professional baseball.
Gone are the days full of bus rides and playing baseball. Instead, days are loaded with negative headlines regarding the minor league season and cuts of teammates and friends on the same journey.
“It’s sad to see,” Neustrom said. “There’s a lot that goes through your mind, especially when you see your teammates, and I’ve had good buddies cut already. They never really got the chance to prove themselves this year. There’s nothing worse than not even getting the opportunity.”
Still, Neustrom acknowledges the harsh realities of the minor league business. He knows the general manager is making the best decision he can for the organization.
While it’s certainly an unfavorable situation, both he and Allgeyer have made it through this time by focusing on what they can control.
“This is a crazy time, and you never want to see people getting released,” Allgeyer said. “It’s something, fortunately, that didn’t happen to me. I just got to keep grinding away, do the best I can to perform and get better.”
So, they’re putting in more work. Both players view this time off as an extended offseason.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for Neustrom.
The Sioux City, Iowa, native dislocated his shoulder and tore his labrum with six games left last season, bringing surgery upon himself.
The rehab process lasted six months. Because of it, Neustrom missed offseason training and fell behind physically. The first time he swung a bat following the injury came two weeks into spring training.
Now, he’s back in Iowa City and preparing the best he can for the next time he can take the field.
“These are terrible times; they’re trying times, that’s for sure,” Neustrom said. “But I kind of had to look at it in a way like, ‘I’m good to go now. I know I can get back to Iowa City, I can get back home and find a good place to train and find a good place to put myself in a situation where I can get to where I wanted to be before I got hurt.’ I feel like I’m taking advantage of that.”
Allgeyer took a similar route.
While he’s not coming off an injury, he took advantage of his time off by extending his offseason to engage in more rigorous training.
Once he realized teams wouldn’t be competing any time soon, Allgeyer said he called the Blue Jays organization and asked about taking part in throwing that reflects a regular offseason.
Soon, Allgeyer, the Blue Jays, and Premier Pitching and Performance — the gym known as P3 that Allgeyer had been going to in St. Louis — developed a long-toss velocity training program Allgeyer would run with for four weeks.
“That kept me out of the lull of playing catch every day and not really working for a goal, just kind of waiting to hear back when we’re going to go back,” Allgeyer said. “So, that was a good change up and a lot of fun. Now, that’s over [and] hopefully we’re getting closer to going back.”
Through all of the uncertain times, the Iowa baseball program has been there for both players, reminding each of the time spent on Duane Banks Field.
Allgeyer said he still keeps in contact with many of his former teammates through a group chat, and Neustrom said he talked to head coach Rick Heller on his way back to Iowa from Florida after players were forced to leave.
“It kind of gives me chills,” Neustrom said. “I can’t even explain how important the [Iowa baseball program] has been to me. They welcome me back with open arms every offseason. Any time I want to come into practice and get work in, Coach Heller embraces it and all the other coaches as well.
“I loved my time at Iowa. I loved putting the Iowa uniform on. I grew up an Iowa fan, and to be able to come back here like I never left, it definitely means a lot to me. I know it’s really helped my career out, and it’s gotten me to where I want to be.”