“I don’t think anybody has ever seen anything quite like this,” East Carolina University baseball play-by-play broadcaster Corey Gloor said.
Harkening back to the days when Ted Williams left the baseball diamond to fight in World War II while much of the world was put on hold, ECU athletes must now go without the sports they love for an extended amount of time. This time to combat the spread of a deadly virus instead of an existential threat like an invading army, the world is taking a huge swing to limit COVID-19’s reach.
Caught up in all that is ECU’s spring sports schedule, a slate that was canceled on Monday after originally being suspended four days earlier. A decision made by the American Athletic Conference and in lock-step with all other major conferences and leagues, this week has been a whirlwind of suspensions and cancellations across the country.
“I wasn’t surprised when it came down yesterday (Monday),” Gloor said. “Just seeing how everything transpired over the last week and how quickly this all snowballed in the sports world, that it just seemed like a matter of time before the American pulled the trigger on canceling the spring season.”
Described as premature by some, it is universally understood the conference made the right decision in halting play. What was a bridge too far for some, however, was when the NCAA announced the cancellation of all winter and spring championships months before some were set to take place.
Jared Plummer, a long-time member of the jungle, says he is disappointed with the NCAA’s decision to cancel events and would have rather seen a suspension and reevaluation when the coronavirus subsides.
For those like devoted ECU baseball fan Todd Viverette who have kids, the process of explaining the absence of baseball can be hard. Stopped 17 games into a 56-game regular season, changing routines will be difficult to accomplish.
“My son, he’s such a big baseball fan, he likes to run around and give us all high-fives like he’s doing his own jungle jump,” Viverette said. “He’s asking when we’re going to go to our next baseball game and I’ve had to tell him that there won’t be baseball games for a while.”
As things stand right now, the next ECU sporting event is the home football opener on Aug. 29 in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Still over five months away at this point, just how much the coronavirus will impact everyone’s lives remains up in the air.
With the total number of those infected creeping up over 200,000 globally, governments must find answers to the question of how they are going to stop the spread. In the sports world, the NCAA and universities across the country will be forced to figure the best way to relax roster size and scholarship restrictions on spring sports like baseball.
Already on record as willing to extend another year of eligibility to spring athletes, rumors continue to swirl about how the NCAA will implement such a provision and how it will impact the landscape of collegiate athletics.
“I believe they are going to make some moves there,” Plummer said. “Obviously they’re giving guys another year of eligibility which is great and I think that’s the right move. How are they now going to handle five entire classes onto a roster? This is going to take five years to unravel.”
Whether the extra year only applies to seniors, a possible fix that has floated around Twitter, juniors on baseball rosters around the country are staring down a tough decision. Having already pushed back the start of their regular season, Major League Baseball is still in talks with its players’ union about the best way to approach the draft.
Slated for June 10, it is unclear if the MLB will simply delay its draft or cancel it altogether. Of course, that decision likely revolves around the fluid situation so many people around the United States and world now find themselves in.
“I can’t imagine the feeling there. Especially for the upperclassmen, whether seniors on the roster or the guys who are looking at the draft this summer about now what all this means for them,” Gloor said. “There’s a lot of decisions that are now needing to be made here. Not just on their end, but on the NCAA’s end, on Major League Baseball’s end when it comes to the draft.”
Still with time to make a well thought out decision, it’s beginning to sink in that the 17 games in 2020 might have been the last time many ECU upperclassmen suited up in purple and gold.
Names like junior left-handed pitcher Alec Burleson, junior outfielder Bryson Worrell, junior left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner and senior right-handed pitcher Tyler Smith are just a few that could enter the pool of wouldbe professional baseball players this summer.
Both Plummer and Viverette said they would love to see those players back, especially with the short season, but recognize the need for them to do what is best for themselves and their families.
For that reason, it would be premature to speculate on who will or will not be returning to Greenville, North Carolina in 2021 since many of the terms are not known.
In the meantime, thousands of ECU sports fans are waiting out the virus’s impact with little more to do than watch unorthodox forms of entertainment.
“I’m getting the shakes a little bit,” Plummer said. “I’ve never smoked in my life but I feel like I know what people are going through when they go through the nicotine withdrawals. It’s amazing how excited I get when I see darts on TV. I get a lot more excited than I thought I would.”
While we all miss sports, it remains important for everyone to heed medical professionals’ recommendations on social distancing and other things that could limit the spread of the coronavirus. With a little luck and everybody working together, sports will be back in the picture in Greenville, North Carolina and around the world soon enough.