COVID-19 outbreak threatens to end baseball's season


Dylan McGinnis

Senior Shea Walker throws a strike during a tournament win over Fort Bend Clements. Thanks to coronavirus, the game may have been one of Walker's last as a high schooler.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

On March 13, baseball players all across the state of Texas bowed their heads, as one by one they found out their season may be over.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the UIL put out a press release on Friday announcing that all UIL-sanctioned contests were suspended through at least March 29.

“I was upset and saddened,” said senior Caden Norman. “There’s so much [work] you put in [during] the off-season and look forward too in season, and to have that possibly taken from you sucks.”

After last year’s first-round playoff exit at the hands of eventual state-semifinalist Austin Lake Travis, the team entered the year without the mainstream hype that last year’s team enjoyed. But that only seemed to make them more confident.

“I mean, no one is expecting us to be good this year, and I think that’s a better thing for us than [having high expectations],” senior Jarek Wells in a preseason interview. “I think we’re really going to surprise some people. And that’s what we want, you know? We’re fine with being the underdogs, and it’s really pushed us.”

Those thoughts weren’t limited to just Wells; the whole team rallied around the underdog mentality.

“[I] wouldn’t be surprised if we end up at Round Rock (where the state finals are held) at the end of [the season],” junior Ryan Ruff said.

Ruff’s thoughts were echoed by Wells, a Midland College signee.

“I think we’re gonna have a pretty legit team this year,” Wells said. “We’re gonna be a team to deal with.”

But, on that fateful Friday, those hopes were dashed. Some heard the news directly from head coach Chad Koehl; others, like senior Shea Walker, found out on their own terms.

“I was just hanging out at my house and just saw it come across on Twitter for the UIL Texas page,” Walker said. “It definitely hurt. We got off to a really good start this season, and we were really looking forward to keeping it going into district play. And the suspension just hurt, ‘cause we just wanna play.”

The majority of players, however, didn’t find out until Koehl called a group meeting prior to the team’s slate of tournament games that Friday. One such player was Ethan Gonzalez, the lone freshman on varsity.

“I started having a feeling when I heard what was going on with the NBA games,” Gonzalez said. “Then the MLB spring training schedules [were] canceled or postponed… From there, I had a feeling it would trickle down to high school-level sports. Before our last game against Churchill, Coach Koehl made a comment to us to play like it [was] our last game, because he wasn’t sure if it would be our last game of the season. [That was] really when I realized it could… really happen.”

Another such player was Chandler Cole, a senior catcher. He spoke about the situation on Saturday’s edition of the Fieldhouse Rock podcast.

“We had two games this past [Friday], and I kinda realized there was a chance there was a potential cancellation for the season before the first game,” Cole said. “Coach Koehl kinda approached us and said, you know, he didn’t really know what was going on, and he was unsure what would happen, but he basically said, ‘let’s go out and play like it’s our last, because you never know what will happen.’”

The team did play like it was their last, overcoming a late Churchill run to win 7-5. The win improved their tournament record to 3-0, and secured Koehl his 300th win as head coach. There was a fourth game still scheduled to be played; alas, it never happened.

“We had an 8:30 game scheduled to play [Laredo United], and they actually ended up going home,” Cole said. “They were watching us, at 12:30, play our game, and they left during that game. And the coaches told us in the middle [of the Churchill game] that, just to be safe, all the teams from out of town were going home.”

The atmosphere, as one might guess, wasn’t exactly a joyous one. But the team tried to look at the bright side.

“Everyone was kinda quiet,” Cole said. “We were in the middle of a game. We were losing. We ended up coming back and winning, and that felt good, especially since it was Coach Koehl’s 300th win… so that was kind of a good feeling. But I don’t think it’s sunk in very well with us yet.”

It hasn’t ‘sunk in very well’ for plenty of ballplayers across the country. In fact, they managed to get #LetTheKidsPlay trending on Twitter on Tuesday night. Many of them, especially the seniors, have spent their whole lives preparing for this moment. And now it’s being taken away from them.

“This group of seniors has been looking forward to this year since we first stepped on campus as freshmen,” Walker said. “We knew we had the potential to go all the way our senior year, and we and the coaches still believe in that. We want our last ride together to be memorable. It would mean so much if we [could] finish our ride together how we envisioned it four years ago.

“It’s our senior year, and we want to finish out on a bang and not end our high school [careers] early. We want to finish, together, what we started four years ago. A lot of us even played together before high school. It’s like growing up with brothers; we’re a family.”

And the brotherhood wasn’t simply between the seniors – even a freshman like Gonzalez felt welcome.

“I’ll always remember that my goal was to make varsity my freshman year,” he said. “The team was very supportive and guided me. Chandler Cole was one of several players who I felt took me under his wing and talked to me about what to expect at this level by giving me advice.  I’ll always remember how he and the other teammates treated me like they were big brothers.”

But even after all that work in the offseason, the hours spent in the cages or in the weight room, the lifetimes building relationships, the brotherhood is fractured. The season is gone, and there’s a good chance it doesn’t come back. For many seniors, they may have already played their final game of baseball, the sport they love.

And they never even got to say goodbye.

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