Mike Pruitt couldn’t get them off his mind.
The West Forsyth baseball coach led his players to a solid start to the 2020 season, with region play set to begin last Friday.
But right before Pruitt’s Wolverines got a chance to potentially show the rest of Region 5-7A the kind of team they were, their season, and everyone else’s, came to a screeching halt.
A day before West was to play South Forsyth, the Forsyth County Schools system announced closures for the next week due to the coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, Georgia governor Brian Kemp shuttered the state’s schools until at least April.
After the county’s initial decision, Pruitt met with his
team on Friday and was honest with his players. He didn’t have answers on the
season’s status, and neither did the people above him. And just a few days
later, he hasn’t become any more optimistic.
“I'll be honest with you, when I got home Friday night, my wife was ready to kick me out,” Pruitt said. “I was so depressed for these kids — they put a lot into this. We start in August with our conditioning and lifting three days a week and then the four on ones. You hate for these seniors who were still working on trying to get scholarships and those things. That's been taken away. You hope that some things they've done in the past (are) enough, but I don't know. We're just in unchartered waters here.
“We don't know where we're headed, if we'll ever get back on the field, and with the NCAA doing what they did, I would be very surprised if we played another game this season.”
All every county baseball team can do right now is hope. Hope that the coronavirus threat can be neutralized and contained relatively quickly, and hope that in some way, their seasons can be salvaged. The virus hasn’t been the only thing that’s disrupted county baseball — before the pandemic became worse, constant rain disrupted every team’s schedule, to the point where it got ridiculous.
“I'm updating them every day. We want to make sure that there's still some hope. I think if we just said, ‘Hey guys, this thing's done 100 percent,’ that would be even more devastating. I think (the GHSA) will have some decisions by Friday on which way we're going. I really do."Pinecrest Academy baseball coach Heath Kennedy
“I thought maybe (if) we get thought the first couple of weeks, things will start to turn for us a little bit, and it just got worse with the weather,” Pruitt said. “It was a struggle every day. There would be days where I'd spend one or two hours on the phone with coaches — ninth grade, JV and varsity — trying to reschedule and just get as many as we could possibly get in.”
But initially, when the weather was bad, teams could still get together. They could still congregate and hit in the cage. Now, they can’t even do that. Campuses are closed to student-athletes, and coaches are prohibited from conducting practices for the time being.
Those rules include private schools like Pinecrest Academy, which goes by the county’s decisions. Any hopes of Pinecrest being a refuge for baseball players were quickly shot down.
“The idea out of this whole thing was maybe we could get a couple of kids together, they could use our facilities since we were a private school, if you kept it under 50, and let them do their own thing with some local schools, potentially,” Pinecrest baseball coach Heath Kennedy said. “That was just a thought. But when that was presented it was a hard no. You can't do that at all.”
In terms of scheduling, there are a lot of moving parts. All of the regions in the county are comprised of schools from different school systems, which could reopen at different times. According to Kennedy, a postseason could possibly be played in June, but that would require waivers and may not include seniors who have already signed with a college program. Since coaches don’t know when or if they’re coming back, all they can do right now is make preliminary plans and adjust them as the situation continues.
“You've got to be fair to everybody,” Kennedy said. “There was one thing being floated around, being Single-A, freeze the power rankings where they are right now, and when they release us to play, those top 24 teams go to the playoffs. It's great for us because we're 16 or 17, but for the teams outside of the 24 that haven't had a chance to play, that's terrible for them. I don't know that there's a great answer.”
For the players, the effects of the stoppage could be massive. Seniors that are still looking to prove their worth to colleges may not get the chance to do that against high school competition. Pruitt, who has a few players who are still looking to do just that, certainly has his share of concerns.
“The scary part of that is, the NCAA is talking about giving these people in college a year of eligibility back,” Pruitt said. “If you do that, will those scholarships even be available for the rising seniors graduating high school this year? I guess it would just depend on how many of those kids decided to hang around, but they're in the same boat. There's a lot of college baseball players who were hoping to get drafted this year and didn't get that opportunity to make that statement for themselves. It's a big trickle down and we just don't know.”
For those high school seniors, one potential option to show their skills to colleges could be participating in summer leagues. But that’s only if those leagues are still playing and if college coaches and scouts are even out and about to watch them.
It all combines to become a terrible situation for everyone involved, but while he’s heartbroken, Pruitt can certainly understand the precautions being taken.
“It may not be affecting our (team), but I'm a pretty old guy too,” he said. “I've lived through a heart attack and they talk about that being an underlying health issue that could affect me in a different way. So many kids have grandparents that come to games. We've seen what's happened in other countries and I think we're doing all we can to prevent that.”
But while teams wait for an outcome, they’re not staying still. Players can’t practice or train on campus, sure, but nothing is preventing them from doing it elsewhere. Pinecrest’s players are training with a third party in hopes that if the baseball season is saved, they’ll be ready.
“I'm updating them every day,” Kennedy said. “We want to make sure that there's still some hope. I think if we just said, ‘Hey guys, this thing's done 100 percent,’ that would be even more devastating. I think (the GHSA) will have some decisions by Friday on which way we're going. I really do.