By Jess Westendorf
The Iowa baseball team had a ground-breaking season this past year, earning its first-ever Big Ten Tournament title and returning to the NCAA Regional in Houston with an automatic bid
Though the season is over for Iowa baseball, right fielder Robert Neustrom took his game to the Cape Cod Baseball League in Massachusetts, where he is playing for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks.
In an impressive season as a true freshman in 2016, he hit .307 while scoring 24 runs and drove in 21 in 52 games, opening the opportunity for former pitching coach Scott Brickman to discuss the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“I came in last fall just getting done with my other summer league; I played in the Northwoods last summer,” Neustrom said. “I talked with Coach Brickman, who was our pitching coach at the time and he told me ‘we are trying to get you up in the Cape.’ ”
After that conversation and a stellar season on Neustrom’s part everything fell into place.
“It was really where I wanted to play,” Neustrom said. “It is a respectable league, and it’s considered the best in the nation in summer ball, and everything ended up working out.”
Neustrom is one of two Big Ten players on the Harbor Hawks this summer, and to say there is history is an understatement.
Minnesota’s Micah Coffey just finished his junior season with the Gophers, and now instead of playing against each other, they are teammates.
“It’s pretty cool; he [Coffey]is a really cool guy,” Neustrom said. “Obviously, he is a really good player. I respected him on the field when we played against him, and I respect him now as a teammate.”
Going back to the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa defeated Minnesota in a crazy 7-5 win that took 13 innings and set up the Hawkeyes for a shot at the title.
Though Neustrom and Coffey might be teammates for the summer, that semifinal game still lingers between the two but not in the way that most would think.
“Yeah, I give him crap about it sometimes,” Neustrom said. “He takes it well; he isn’t too uptight about it.”
Right now, Hyannis Harbor is 13 games into the season, and each game is another way for Neustrom to build up for next season.
Even though this summer is his time to work on his individual game, the team and its goals are always in his thoughts and how to improve for the next coming season.
“Last year was a pretty big deal and pretty cool winning the Big Ten Tournament, and obviously, we want to do that again,” Neustrom said. “If you look at our regional, we were matched up pretty well against others, and we played some pretty tight games. If we had made it out of the regional, we would have gone onto the super-regionals, and that would have put us in a good position to get to the College World Series, so for me personally that is what I want to get back to.”
This past spring, he notched second-team All-Big Ten and Academic All-Big Ten honors, not to mention some impressive stats, starting all 61 games this past season with a batting average of .310 with 79 hits, 41 runs, and 55 RBIs.
After numbers like that, some people might think that there isn’t much more to improve on, but the Iowa junior said, “I’m always working on my game,” and summer baseball gives him that opportunity.
“I’m always trying to improve my swing, always trying to improve whether it’s on the bases, in the outfield, or my arm strength,” he said. “I just try to work on my whole game while I’m out here and not just one thing.”