Normally at this time of year, most Kanawha Valley baseball teams would have already played about a dozen games and some of them might even be spending spring break week at the Mingo Bay Classic in and around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
But this season has been anything but normal.
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down high school sports all across the country, and the odds aren’t very good that they’ll be returning any time soon.
If that’s the case, and this baseball season is canceled before it even starts, it means that 70 senior players at the Kanawha Valley’s 13 high schools are denied the final cuts of their prep careers. There would be no swan songs sung for those upperclassmen who worked four years to get to this point.
“It hurts me,’’ said Riverside senior outfielder Charlie Pierson, “because I really wanted to play my senior season. This might not be my last season of baseball, but there’s a lot of kids who might not have that opportunity to play at the next level, and it hurts them more. Probably six or seven of the seniors we have might not get to play [again].’’
Pierson was an All-Kanawha Valley first team selection last season as he helped Riverside reach the regionals for the first time since 2014. He batted .406, drove in 22 runs and committed only two errors all season.
He’s mulling offers to play either baseball or football in college, but might opt instead to stay closer to home and attend BridgeValley Community and Technical College and focus solely on academics.
Hurricane senior catcher Enzo Lewis has already made his decision about college, as he’s headed to Marshall. But baseball is not part of those plans, so his playing days might already be over — unless, of course, West Virginia schools reopen and spring sports play an abbreviated schedule.
“I’m a little devastated,’’ Lewis said. “This was going to be my last year, and it may not get to happen. I thought hard about playing ball in college, but I decided to focus on school.’’
Lewis could have played somewhere post-high school. Last season, he batted .295 with 30 RBIs for the Redskins and had an on-base percentage of .440. But the specter of COVID-19 might wipe out his intentions of helping Hurricane get back to the state tournament.
“I mean, it makes sense because I’d rather play it smart,’’ Lewis said, “and keep everybody as safe as possible because this virus is pretty serious. I’m really trying to keep social distancing because my dad is a doctor and works at the hospital. But being my last year, it does stink that it may be ending like this.’’
Charleston Catholic was poised for another banner season after finishing as the Class A runner-up in 2019. The Irish actually return 11 starters — all 10 from last year and junior Jacob Hufford, an All-Stater as a freshman who missed his entire sophomore season with a knee injury.
Six of those returning starters are seniors, including four players who also play basketball and saw their hoops season interrupted just before they were set to compete in the state tournament. So they’re feeling double the pain.
“We’re trying to keep hope alive for our seniors,’’ said Irish coach Bill Mehle. “They cried after our last practice [four] weeks ago. The day before, our four senior members of the team who also play basketball got the news about the basketball tournament, so it was a lot for them to process in 24 hours.
“We all looked forward to seeing what we could accomplish this season as we anticipated fielding one of the most competitive lineups that I’ve had the privilege of coaching during my years at Charleston Catholic.’’
Even though no formal practices have been held for any SSAC sport in exactly one month — the girls state basketball tournament and boys regionals were shut down March 12 — Mehle has tried to keep his athletes occupied with workout schedules.
“We also send out daily conditioning plans to team members,’’ he said, “trying to keep everyone running and staying in shape just in case we get to play a partial season.’’
Most Kanawha Valley baseball players have pretty much been left to their own devices over the past month, which is made even more difficult since many outdoor recreation areas are off limits to avoid the potential spread of the virus.
Noah Cummings, a senior infielder at defending Class AAA champion St. Albans, said he’s been doing the best he can.
“It’s been really tough,’’ Cummings said. “I don’t have anywhere to go and work out and practice with all the fields being closed. I’ve just got to keep hitting in the garage and try to keep running, getting better. You have to show your heart.’’
Pierson said he receives a little family assist in such workout matters.
“I have a little place I go to every now and then,’’ Pierson said, “and it’s not too bad. Me and my brother hit some, we do some soft toss and he throws to me.’’
Lewis said he’s keeping active exercise-wise, but not so much with baseball skills.
“I’ve been able to work out,’’ Lewis said. “I’ve got some equipment at home, so I’m keeping my body in shape. But other than that, I don’t have a net or anything so I’m not able to hit any baseballs. I take some dry swings, toss the ball around with my dad a little bit.’’
Cummings, another returning first-team All-Valley player who last year hit .406 with 50 RBIs, is headed to the baseball program at West Virginia State, so he’s also concerned with staying sharp for his debut at the next level.
“I won’t have any time to prepare for the college season,’’ he said. “I’m not getting a lot of reps in, and it’s really disappointing.’’
If his senior season at Hurricane is canceled, Lewis has tinkered with the thought of playing somewhere this summer, such as American Legion ball or another youth league, before he hangs up his cleats and goes on to college.
“If for some reason, we don’t get to go back to school,’’ Lewis said, “and things get cleared up, I might try to get a little summer ball in before I wrap it up. That’s the plan right now.’’
Mehle still holds out hope that the Irish can get back to Appalachian Power Park and earn a rematch with Moorefield in the state tournament. Catholic fell to the Yellow Jackets 4-2 in last year’s Class A finals. Like the Irish, Moorefield is loaded again with seven starters and two substitutes back from its 2019 squad.
“I told the players from Moorefield as we were leaving Power Park last June that we planned to see them in about 365 days,’’ Mehle said. “I knew it would be a challenge to make it back to the state tournament. I didn’t anticipate just how big a challenge it would be.’’