Photos provided by T.C. Hydock; Mount Vernon Patriots; Metro Baseball Academy
The final weekend in March was supposed to mark the beginning of the NVTBL spring season. The temperature was in the mid-60s and the sun was shining on fields across the region, yet dugouts and bleachers remained empty and diamonds unlined as a result of local closures and cancellations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus disease.
On March 23, Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced all schools in the state will be closed for the remainder of the year, cancelling all spring high school sporting events and activities held on school grounds. A week later, he issued a stay-at-home order to all residents through June, effectively halting all athletic activities at all levels.
It was not how the 308 teams in the NVTBL or hundreds more across high school and youth leagues in the state imagined how their season would start, and unfortunately in many cases conclude. But that hasn’t stopped the game from being played.
Though NVTBL practices and games are canceled, players have moved from parks and fields to backyards and driveways. Those missing the game have tried to fill the void by practicing on their own anyway they can and finding creative ways to stay connected with teammates and the game they love.
Several organizations and teams have helped by providing drills, workout plans and other resources for players to stay sharp for an eventual resumption of baseball activities on the field. The Metro Baseball Academy have posted at home drills every day since their facility closed on March 18.
Metro Baseball At Home Drill of the Day Series 3/27/20. Coach Gallagher and Ryan back in the yard working on fielders prep step. Great stuff right here. All you need is a ball and a wall! #metrobaseball #drilloftheday #homeedition #nodaysoff @nvtblbaseball @nvbaseballmag pic.twitter.com/cuIzMKM2kO— Metro Baseball (@MetroSenators) March 27, 2020
Reid Hydock, who plays on a Loudoun-based 11u team, has made the most of his basement batting cage during the quarantine. The netted off area is about 35 feet long, 12 feet wide and seven feet tall and has seen a ton of work over the last couple of weeks facilitating various hitting drills his coaches have provided him. The good news for now is he hasn’t driven his mom crazy with the additional noise.
Reid Hydock takes swings in his basement batting cage. Photos courtesy of T.C. Hydock.
The Santistevan brothers don’t have a batting cage but it hasn’t kept them from pushing each other to keep up with drills and exercises provided by their coach. Nico, age 11, and Eli, age 9, have followed a daily regimen compiled by their parents and coach that consists of school work, chores and physical exercise, usually centered around a baseball activity.
Though the boys have been able to continue playing, they still miss the little nuances of the game and sharing the experience with friends.
“I'm really missing baseball and my teammates,” Nico said. "We're still talking to each other on video games and stuff, but I just miss the fun of doing something outside with them.”
“I’m missing the sounds of the game and just being with my friends and making new friends playing baseball,” Hydock said.
Hydock and the rest of his team turned to Zoom, a video-chat software, to wish their teammate, Owen Mollerup, a happy birthday. The team had originally planned to have a party to celebrate after their scheduled games this past weekend. Jace Barfield was also supposed to have a birthday celebration during the opening weekend of the season. Instead, his entire team surprised him with a parade-style celebration outside of his house while still abiding by social distancing recommendations.
Several other teams have turned to video-chat and other methods to stay connected with players. Mount Vernon Patriots coach Matt Larimore has utilized an app that can post videos and track participation, allowing him to post drills and set up various challenges for his 11-and-under team. He can also coach players on their swings, mechanics and execution of other drills. It doesn’t replace an actual practice, but the coaching, feedback and competition are all still there.
“I’ve been seeing what drills and things people can do on their own and seeing what works for the kids and what they like,” Larimore said. “I know a lot of the parents have been doing some of the core strength training with them to stay busy.”
Some teams are getting wildly creative. Two Loudoun County teams were supposed to play each other on opening day. Instead, the two teams dressed up in their uniforms and battled it out on Fortnite. The Dig In Baseball 9u team edited a TikTok video, appearing as if the boys were playing an endless series of catch. The boys also did a little bit of dancing.
The sad reality is that video calls and text messages don’t replace high-fives and celebration hugs and nothing equates to the feeling of a game-winning hit or a game-saving catch. My heart goes out to all the kids that are missing out on an opportunity to compete in sports, especially in this great game of baseball that can teach us life lessons, connect us to a wide network of people and provide so much joy. My sentiment is shared by those who are directly impacted.
“I feel sad because I was looking forward to my first season of majors and I feel bad for the kids who this was their last season of majors and they're now going on to the big field,” Hydock said.
“It makes me sad that I’m going to miss out on [the season],” Santistevan said. “I'm really going to miss All-Stars.”
“I was looking forward to hitting my first home run this spring,” Mollerup said.
“I think the hardest thing is you look outside and it's beautiful baseball weather, and we're not playing baseball,” said one parent in the Patriots organization. “These boys, they're 10 years old and they like to play baseball, not just for love of the game, but because they like to play with their friends. And it seems like when you're 10, playing baseball is the best thing you could be doing and to take that away from them for an entire season is just really heartbreaking.”
Let’s hope we can get the kids back on the field and can hear an umpire shout, “Play ball,” again soon.