MORGANTOWN — Randy Mazey and his West Virginia baseball team spent the day before this year’s Big 12 baseball tournament in the same place they spent it last year.
The circumstances and the surroundings, though, were quite different.
After an early-morning practice in Oklahoma City Tuesday, the Mountaineers headed down I-35 just about 10 miles to Moore, Okla. It had nothing to do with superstition or trying to do the same things the team did a year ago when it had a fairly successful run in the tournament.
It was a year ago Tuesday that a massive tornado tore through Moore, leaving 25 dead and the homes of many of the survivors in ruins. West Virginia’s baseball team was a short distance away in Oklahoma City and after the tornado passed the players and coaches and staff pitched in to help.
Returning to the scene to see what had happened in the 365 days since then was something they just had to do.
“We always try to talk to our guys and teach them life lessons,’’ Mazey said. “It’s not all about fielding backhands and hitting curveballs and stealing bases. Thirty years from now, you won’t remember how many hits you got against Kansas in the first game of the tournament, but you’ll remember the impact you made on lives and the friends you made and the relationships you made and what you did when people needed you.’’
The Mountaineers certainly made friends, fostered relationships and pitched in when people needed help. They helped residents dig through rubble and they went to an area Wal-Mart and spent $3,000 on supplies to give away to residents.
Two of those they helped were Mark and Katrina Ellerd. And the Ellerds haven’t forgotten. They’ve become big West Virginia baseball fans now and on Tuesday the team went to see them again.
And in truth, that’s what Mazey and his team remember most from their experience in Moore a year ago. It wasn’t the unbelievable destruction. It was people like the Ellerds.
And for Mazey, it was the people like the ones he was coaching.
“I think it was the people,’’ Mazey said when asked what still sticks out about last year. “It was our kids and their willingness to help people who were in desperate, desperate need. But more so it was the resilience of the people of Moore.
“As you walked around and talked to them as they were sitting in lawn chairs next to their house that just looks like a bunch of toothpicks; their mentality and their resiliency and their desire to build. They were only material possessions that were lost. [They thought], ‘I’ve still got my health, I’ve still got my family.’
“That goes a long way with kids and with me for people to show that no matter what happens they were going to stand up to it all and hold their head up high. ‘I’m going to beat this thing and come back and be stronger than ever.’ ’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.