By John Bohnenkamp
Spencer Nivens spent his redshirt freshman season at Missouri State getting on base.
He’s doing the same thing this summer in the Prospect League with the Burlington Bees.
Nivens, who joined the Bees last Monday, has been on base in five of his first six games.
This came after a season in which he had a .443 on-base percentage at Missouri State, reaching safely in 56 of the 60 games he played. He had a 30-game on-base streak, along with hitting streaks of 13 and 12 games, during the season.
Nivens, a left-handed hitter who is playing either left field or center field for the Bees, wants to keep that momentum going into the summer.
“It’s about getting your pitches early, not swinging at pitchers’ pitches,” Nivens said. “They want you to get some weak contact, roll over, make an out early in the at-bat. The earlier you can hit a ball hard, the better the outcome.”
Nivens is batting .208 with the Bees after his first week, but he has three doubles, including one that pounded the right-field wall in Friday’s 11-4 loss to the Quincy Gems.
“Oh yeah, (the tools) are definitely there,” Bees manager Owen Oreskovich said after Thursday’s game. “He hit one over the scoreboard in (batting practice) today, so yeah, they’re there.”
Nivens, a second-team all-conference selection in the Missouri Valley Conference, led Missouri State with a .346 batting average to go with 11 home runs and 52 runs batted in. He started every game, with 24 multi-hit games. He scored 71 runs, the fourth-most in the program for a single season. He had 44 walks and 59 singles, also numbers that were in the top-10 in the program’s single-season lists. He led off games against Samford and Bradley with home runs.
Nivens helped lead the Bears to the Valley’s conference tournament title and a spot in the NCAA regionals, where they fought off elimination with an 8-7 win over Grand Canyon before losing 29-15 to Oklahoma State.
“It was everything I had dreamed about as a kid growing up watching the regionals,” said Nivens, who had a three-run home run in the Bears’ comeback against Grand Canyon. “Being able to finally make one with Missouri State, which had been on a bit of a dry spell, it’s nice to finally turn it around and get to a regional.”
Nivens, who grew up in Columbia, Mo., is playing in his third summer-league season. He played in 2020 in the CarShield Collegiate League, a four-team league that played in O’Fallon, Mo., after other summer leagues had shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nivens played in the Northwoods League for part of last season, before coming back to Missouri to play in the MINK Collegiate Baseball League, where he .311 with a .480 on-base percentage.
“It was an absolute grind, nothing like I had ever experienced before,” Nivens said of playing in the Northwoods League. “We got our schedule, I think in June and July we had two off days on the schedule. It’s a little overwhelming, but I think they do a good job managing workloads. It was great competition.”
Missouri State head coach Keith Guttin got Nivens connected with the Bees.
“He told me I was playing here, and I was like, ‘OK, sounds good,’” Nivens said. “I figured if I could go somewhere new every summer, go somewhere I’ve never been, it would be fun. It’s somewhere new, it’s three hours from home, so it’s not too bad of a drive. It worked out well.”
“He’s a kid who wants to play baseball, loves to play baseball,” Oreskovich said. “I like the way he goes about his business, the way he competes out there. I think he’s fine. It’s just baseball for him.”
Nivens said he is getting into a summer routine with the Bees, which is important.
“Our hitting coach (Joey Hawkins at Missouri State) did a really good job of harping on routines,” Nivens said. “So we would come in every day, do the same warmups, the same routine in the cages, and that just really helped me not only get my body ready, but get my mind ready to practice, play in the game, do whatever I needed to do that day.
“It’s just about getting as many at-bats as you can. Summer is the time to just maintain, get stronger, see more pitching, and for guys who want to play at the next level, get comfortable with the wood bat.”
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Quincy (Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.) — After an off-day Monday, the Bees begin a four-game homestand, opening against the Gems (9-9), who are on a three-game winning streak.
• Clinton (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.) — It’s the first time for the Bees to see the LumberKings (10-9) this season. Clinton is on a four-game winning streak.
• O’Fallon (Friday, 6:30 p.m.) — The Hoots (11-8) are on a six-game winning streak. They’ve won all three games against the Bees this season.
• Alton (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.) — The River Dragons (11-7) lead the Prairie Land Division. It’s the first meeting of the season between the two teams.
Photo: Bees outfielder Spencer Nivens has been on base in five of his first six games this summer. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)