Courtsey of Waynesburg University Baseball
Some didn’t believe it. None wanted to believe it. But it was inevitable.
Between Monday, March 9, and Thursday, March 12, the coronavirus wiped out the sports world.
The NBA, NHL and MLB shut down. All spring NCAA championships, including March Madness, evaporated as well.
All of this took place before the Waynesburg University baseball team, already having played 10 games in its annual preseason trip to Florida, knew if it would fall in line with the rest of the world and stop, both athletically and academically.
After the team’s Thursday practice, coach Mike Humiston was frank with his team, telling them he expected the hammer to fall on the Presidents’ Athletic Conference season soon. By the end of the week, fear became reality, and what was supposed to be the last hurrah for six seniors ended without the team ever playing a game north of the Mason Dixon Line.
“I felt lost,” Carter Uzzell said.
“Heartbroken,” Vinny Monico said.
“Devastated,” Jonny Kutchman said.
“We didn’t walk off the field in Florida thinking it was our last game,” senior pitcher Mason Miller said. “So I think that was the hardest part of it. For the seniors, it was going to be another 30 games, 28 games, and then we were going to be done anyway. That was going to be us walking off the field under our choice, not the choice of the conference or the virus or anything like that.”
Miller was unquestionably the headliner for the senior class. The 6-foot-5 fireballer dominated the PAC last season, and in his first start of 2020, is said to have hit 96 MPH on the radar gun. Miller’s talents are such that scouts from roughly half a dozen big-league clubs, including the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, felt compelled to watch Division III baseball just to take a look.
Although the official NCAA ruling allows seniors on spring sports teams to play an extra season if they choose to, Miller will most likely not be doing so. If he does, he said, he’ll be pitching at a DII or DI level, as staying in college would signal a 100% commitment to a professional baseball career.
If Miller doesn’t get selected in the MLB draft— a hope that once seemed promising, but is now in doubt due to the league’s plan to condense its draft from 40 to 10 rounds— it’s possible that he is done with baseball for good, which makes this feeling different from what he felt upon leaving high school.
“For me, there’s still potential that baseball is not out of the cards, but I know that playing on the same field with my teammates from Waynesburg is not going to be in my future,” he said. “So I think that’s the saddest part.”
Miller’s catcher and close friend, John Przybylinski, planned on coming back to Waynesburg to pursue a master’s degree. Now that he has the option to play baseball again, he plans on taking advantage.
Przybylinski wants to play for Waynesburg again, as do classmates Monico and Uzzell. Miller doesn’t find it in his best interest, as does Kutchman. Justin Buberl, on the contrary, is unsure what he wants to do. In addition to being the team’s leading hitter last season, Buberl is also a key member of the soccer team. While his soccer career ended months ago, the end of his baseball run is up in the air.
“At least [with] soccer, I got to play my last and final season ever,” Buberl said. “But baseball’s kind of gotten taken away from me. So it is very sad and it hurts a lot but, you know, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
In the meantime, however, those with professional aspirations or not are all struggling with their everyday lives being stolen.
“Normal is so far out there now,” Przybylinski said. “I just kind of wake up, do my online classes, look at the stock market to see how far it’s fallen, try to throw some money in there. I’ve been playing a lot of [MLB} The Show too. A lot of baseball virtually.”
Virtual baseball will have to do while the real thing is paused.
For Przybylinski, not being able to catch his classmate, ace and friend— regardless of the beating the velocity put on his hand— is the hardest part.
“I think what makes me the most upset is not being able to catch Mason in a game,” he said.
Through four years, the battery mates had each other’s back and watched each other grow. Miller was there for Przybylinski as he developed into the team’s No. 1 catcher and emotional leader. Przybylinski was there for Miller as he overcame Type 1 Diabetes to become arguably the best pitcher in the PAC.
“I’ve grown a lot and he’s grown a lot in four years, so we also grew together in that time,” Miller said. “So having that relationship on the field and off the field is something that’s pretty special. Moving forward, I don’t know if I’ll have something like that again.”
Miller won’t miss everything about college. He doesn’t see himself longing for the days of 8 a.m. lectures or cafeteria food. What he will miss, however, is seeing his best friends face-to-face, every day and every night.
“We’re fortunate that we have the communication networks that we do now that we can still stay in touch with everybody,” Miller said. “But compared to being able to see somebody face to face and laugh and do all these different [things] with them at school [it’s not the same]. At home, it’s a FaceTime or a message or a phone call that’s going to have to fill that gap.”
College baseball for 2020 is over. For the seniors, the college experience is also done. Those questions have been settled for weeks. Now, the fear that the world lives with is when they will get their lives back.
“I think nobody really has any answers,” Miller said, “and that’s the scariest part about it.”