Frustrations regarding the coronavirus are reaching new highs – canceling spring sports – and the frustration over a lack of discussion regarding playing high school baseball in better weather.
It’s being blamed on the coronavirus, of course. There is no high school baseball (or softball) this spring. It would be called unsafe, insensitive, and lacking in priority to the majority opinion that public safety is more important than playing a kids game.
“The numbers don’t add up,” a high school coach told me this week, asking not to be identified.
“We were told it would be so much worse, that millions would die. And we can’t play baseball, where social distancing is obvious. The shortstop and second baseball don’t stand side by side, and there’s 60 feet between the pitcher and catcher.”
But there’s another, greater, frustration among baseball advocates, one that goes as deep as concern over public safety and political flip-flopping by the governor.
“It would be hard to play if we could – if there was no virus,” said that same coach. “So far we would have had 20 games on our schedule. And given the kind of weather I don’t think we could have played ten times. It’s been that cold, or it’s been that wet.
“And I don’t want my name revealed over what I’m saying…because there would be consequences,” he added. “But this is frustrating for kids who work all year for the privilege to play baseball for two months in the spring, only to sit indoors because the weather in Ohio is so awful [that] you can’t play. And we do nothing about it…because no one cares.
“We say we’re in this for the kids,” he continued. “But that’s a lie. We do what’s convenient for administrators and the school schedules. I read what you write about playing high school baseball in summer, and we should be doing that. We could be doing that.
“But we don’t, and we won’t. It would require a change in thinking. It would require a change in attitudes, and right now there’s no chance of that happening because people don’t care about kids playing baseball. In the meantime we’re losing those kids and we blame it on everything else. The truth is…attitudes about football and basketball would have to change, too. And that won’t happen because those sports are where the money is. We talk about change, but we just keep kicking the can down the road.”
It is the worst kept secret in high school sports, universal among coaches across the state, and the Midwest. And yet, more than one whispers when they share their concern over the state of the game, and the future of amateur baseball. Bowing to at least some reality, the OHSAA started the baseball season a week later last year, hoping to buy seven days of better weather. No one noticed a difference.
“If we could start a month later…that would make a difference,” says Covington coach Andy Johnson, who did consent to lending his name to the issue. “As it is, by the time our kids get done with winter sports it’s mid-March, and I don’t have much time to see them, or help them prepare for baseball. And if we played in May and June the extra time would be nice, and I think everyone would enjoy the warmer days.”
“I don’t think you’ll ever change it,” says Vandalia Butler’s Trent Dues. “Ideally, the best time to play high school baseball would be in the fall when it’s warm and dry, but there would be conflict with football. And some people are talking about playing baseball in the fall and football in the spring. But that won’t happen either, because of tradition.”
Three-time state champion Mike Wiss, from Minster, admits to at least some need for change.
“Obviously,” he says. “There’s been a change in the climate from the time I started coaching baseball. Winter creeps over into spring now and it severely limits your opportunities. Would I be in favor of summer baseball? Of course, but it would require change, and change comes hard for a lot of people. It comes hard for me, too, about some things. But I can’t imagine asking kids to play basketball, in January…outside.”
To the arguments.
There’s no one to supervise the kids after graduation.
Added cost to school districts, having to provide busing and adult supervision – athletic administrators would have to change their summer vacation plans.
And to the point made by more than one…there just aren’t enough kids to benefit from summer baseball.
“That’s not true,” says Curt Burcham, from Chillicothe. “There’s plenty of kids who would love the structure of summer high school baseball because many of them have no ACME team in their community, and they can’t play on a travel team because they don’t have the money. It would actually help with the development of baseball in most communities, replacing ACME and Legion baseball…which pretty much doesn’t exist anymore.”
Andy Johnson agrees.
“We’ve struggled to develop a culture for a summer program in Covington. If I could see kids play more in the summer I’d have a better idea about them come spring. High school baseball would definitely help.”
“And this year…why would they limit time between coaches and kids?” adds Troy’s Heath Murray. “I mean, that two and half months (of summer) would mean a lot to kids and their opportunity to play and develop their skills.”
And all because of the weather.
“It’s not fair to the game of baseball, and to sit out there on a 30-degree day and not be able to feel your fingers – to try and spin a curveball,” says Ohio State coach Greg Beals. “I admit I’m a purist, and it’s not fair to the game and it’s not fair to the kids who want to play. And ironically, right now Big Ten baseball coaches are writing a pretty detailed proposal to the NCAA about moving the season back – to play the College World Series in late July.”
And then…the issue of competition for athletes.
“A lot of kids that play baseball also play football and basketball,” says Danny Huff, a retired coach from Boyd County, Kentucky. “I’m telling you…that coaches are in kids’ ears telling them they’re not going to get drafted, regardless of how much baseball they play. But if they come out and lift with the football team they might be the starting quarterback in the fall. If they play summer basketball they could be the starting point guard. There’s peer pressure to be one of the group. They’re told to go with the percentages.”
But if you take the time to ask, some say…they’d rather play baseball.
“And that’s the issue,” adds Huff, who makes the point that you can’t beat Mother Nature. “With bad weather there’s not enough time for them to play – six weeks, maybe – to be as good as they could be, or to be seen. Heck, they can’t play enough baseball to develop their talent. Summer high school baseball could help with that.”
But the can gets kicked down the road, and where it concerns this summer no one can agree if it’s even healthy to go outside. But while we wait…baseball’s getting sicker by the day.