High school baseball coaches are used to dealing with postponements.
Coping with soggy fields? Waiting out weeks full of rain? Dealing with the occasional snowstorm? It’s all part of the game with Northeast Ohio baseball.
Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, however, is an entirely different matter.
Saturday was set to be opening day for Ohio High School Athletic Association baseball teams.
However, that was before the OHSAA established a no-contact period through April 5. It was also before Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine extended his school ban to May 1.
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The question now for high school baseball coaches is when — or if — teams will play ball this spring.
Reflecting on the suspension of the season, baseball coaches from the MyTownNEO.com coverage area often used one word: “Heartbreaking.”
Walsh Jesuit coach Chris Kaczmar is dealing with the lack of a season on a couple levels. Not only is the 24-year Warriors coach dealing with his team and its five seniors not playing, but that group includes his two sons and a nephew.
Senior Stanley Kaczmar, sophomore Henry Kaczmar and freshman Mason Eckelman all were set to play for Kaczmar this spring.
“It really hits home in our house in the senior that we have,” Kaczmar said. “We had been looking forward to seeing all three of them being written up on the same lineup card.
“It really is tough for me personally. I hate to get emotional about it. I do hope to have that one more game where we can play together.”
Kaczmar notes all five of his seniors will move on to play collegiate baseball, but many area seniors might not be so lucky.
The disruption of the season also hit hard for new Cuyahoga Falls coach Brian Shannon. After years as the Black Tigers’ head junior varsity coach, the 1998 Falls grad was set to lead his alma mater for the first time.
“It’s a dream come true and a heartbreak all at the same time,” Shannon said. “It’s killing me every day to not be with my guys.”
Shannon notes the hardest part is Falls had a whopping 14 seniors on its varsity roster.
“I told them about my senior year and how it ended when we lost to Shaker Heights,” Shannon said. “I wasn’t prepared personally to be done with high school baseball. It breaks my heart that a lot of them might not play baseball again. I’m praying every night that that is not the case.”
Veteran Woodridge coach Dennis Dever echoed the sentiments of many as the 21-year coach said he never envisioned a scenario like this potentially killing the season.
“I don’t think anybody could have seen this. It caught everyone completely by surprise,” Dever said, “I feel terrible for our kids, especially our seniors. We had a big and good senior class [11 players].”
Dever also noted a second common sentiment: Combating the pandemic dwarfs the importance of playing baseball.
“First thing I told them was to be safe and follow the guidelines the governor is giving,” Dever said. “It’s out of our control. We can only wait on what the OHSAA will decide. I would do anything to have a chance to coach this group because it’s a great group of kids.”
Sixth-year Aurora head coach Michael Brancazio gave credit to the way his players reacted to the announcement the season was suspended.
“My players acted extremely professional about the the whole thing,” Brancazio said. “It was refreshing to see such maturity from our guys. Some are going on to play ball at the next level, but there’s a good chance for many of them they will never pick up a bat or glove again.”
Brancazio notes that even if the season does resume in May, he will be very careful with his players’ health.
“Even if they work out, they can’t keep their arms in game shape,” Brancazio said. “If we play, I’m going to have them on strict pitch count. We’re going to need some time to get these guys back into game shape.”
Eighth-year Nordonia coach Drew Hoisington noted his players would have to “get creative” in order to keep their baseball skills sharp. He also said he felt “awful,” especially for the 11 seniors on Nordonia’s roster.
“These are uncharted waters, you could say,” Hoisington said. “I hope these guys are doing what they can. I hope we can get out there whenever we can. For the kids, this may be the last chance to play baseball in an organized way.
“Any baseball at this point would be an experience that those kids would enjoy. You’ve got to play it because you love the game.”
The OHSAA’s no-contact order not only canceled early-season games, but also interrupted out-of-state trips for local teams.
Hudson coach Buddy Dice noted the Explorers were set to head to Destin, Florida, for some warm-weather scrimmages with other Ohio teams when the suspension order came down.
“There was a lot of work put in up to that point. Right now, there’s bigger things to deal with,” Dice said. “In addition to the trip, I feel badly for the families that were involved. It’s a heartbreaking for a lot of people.”
Meanwhile, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy saw its trip to the Cal Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, also called off by the suspension.
Royals coach Justin Herblet said the cancellation not only upended the games but also numerous service projects CVCA planned to do with local churches in South Carolina.
“Our guys are devastated. I’ve got eight seniors that are really bumming right now,” Herblet said, noting that many area churches have had to switch to services by remote means. “The last day of school, I gave them a little handout about how we have to continue to lift each other up.”
Sixth-year Stow-Munroe Falls coach Aaron DeBord was one of several coaches who hoped the OHSAA would allow organized games of some sort, even if that meant playing in summer.
“You want the best for all of your kids,” DeBord said, noting Stow had six senior players. “Being home and being safe is probably the right thing right now. If the OHSAA lets us play in summer, I’d be all for it.”
“Anything they can do, I’m all for it,” he added. “Worst-case scenario, I hope they come up with something for the seniors.”
Twinsburg coach Jeff Luca, who enters his second season with the program, echoed DeBord’s sentiments, noting the Tigers have 12 senior baseball players.
“I think right now you have to say ‘Keep your heads up. You worked your butts off to get here,’” Luca said. “If there’s any chance to to salvage eight to 10 games at the end season, we should do it.
“To not be able to go on the field, that’s a disappointment,” he added. “I would play one game just to give those seniors a chance to let them get on the field together one last time. It’s not for me. it’s just for those seniors.”
Entering his 17th year at Tallmadge, Blue Devils coach Kenny Linn admitted he was lucky in that he had only two seniors and both will play college baseball. Tallmadge senior Andrew Ayres is headed to Heidelberg University in Tiffin, while senior Luke Thomas is headed Wittenberg University in Springfield.
“There’s something to be said about having only two seniors that you have to say goodbye to,” Linn said. “At the same time, you know It will not be the end of their careers.
That said, after the first week away from his players, Linn admitted the situation “almost knocked me into a funk.”
“This thing is for real,” Linn said. “The health of all of us is the most important thing right now. It’s been challenging.”
Dice probably said it best when reflecting on the whole situation.
“We’ve not had a spring without high school baseball,” Dice said.