Live Oak baseball coach Jesse Cassard may have summed up the feelings of a lot of people regarding life in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I feel like we’re living in a movie,” Cassard said. “Like it’s a nightmare and we’re going to wake up and snap out of it. It’s just really frustrating not knowing the future, and nobody likes the feeling of uncertainty and what’s going to happen next and all that.”
For the Live Oak and Doyle baseball teams, the first brush with what life has turned into as a result of the coronavirus began to unfold while both were competing in tournaments on the road beginning March 12.
In Live Oak’s case, it was a tournament at Sam Houston, where the Eagles faced Barbe in their opening game. Although school was still in session at that point, Cassard let his team know that its season may be put on hold.
“I told them within five minutes of game time because I didn’t want them thinking about it,” Cassard said. “They had to get over it real quick. A few of them, they shed some tears, but then it was like, ‘All right, we’ve got to play.’”
Live Oak lost that game 6-2, and Cassard knew the news of the season potentially stopping stung his team, particularly senior Rhett Rosevear.
“You could look at him and you didn’t have to say a word and you knew what that kid was thinking,” Cassard said. “It was eating him up. He is not an emotional kid. I’ve never seen him cry. I’ve never seen him get excited, to be honest with you. He’s the most level, non-emotional kid. I told him, and he started crying … but I’m glad I told them right before the game. I didn’t tell them hours before or after or whatever. I wanted them to hear it and then go play, try to forget about it as much as you can.”
Rosevear said he knew the gravity of the situation in listening to Cassard’s message to the team.
“We knew this was going to probably be our last time together,” Rosevear said. “When coach got emotional, it all kind of lit a fire underneath us. We knew that we had to play our hearts out for this last weekend, because it would probably be the last one.”
A different set of circumstances
The Doyle baseball team was competing in the Red River Classic and picked up a 9-6 win over Leesville on March 12.
On March 13, the Tigers ate lunch as a team and then went to Academy to kill some time before heading to Pineville to play Buckeye. That’s where Doyle coach Tim Beatty said he learned of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to close schools statewide beginning March 16.
“We’re hearing the updates,” Beatty said. “We’re hearing this. We’re hearing that back home, and we’re kind of hearing that school’s going to be shut down, but down south, they were going to continue to play on. I say, ‘hey man, we’ll get our two games today in, and we’ll see what happens.’”
Beatty said the reality of the situation took hold once the team arrived at Pineville High and began making its way to the field.
“It was weird because Pineville was getting out of school, so coming in the parking lot walking to the ballpark or to the field, and you could hear the announcements on the intercom telling them school was going to be postponed,” he said.
“All the kids are leaving,” Beatty said. “They’re hugging each other goodbye and we’re seeing all this going on. They’re not going to see their best friend for a while …, so it was kind of a weird presence already, and then we get on to the field and we’re thinking, ‘well, we’re going to get the day in, and we don’t know what’s going to happen …”
Playing another day
Cassard said his team was upbeat March 13, even though he didn’t know if the Eagles would be able to play their games.
“It wasn’t doom and gloom, and I wasn’t going to let them do that anyway,” Cassard said. “There’s just too many other good things that we can be grateful for.”
By the time the Eagles were gearing up for their game against Evangel, Edwards ordered the closure of all schools statewide.
The silver lining, however, came in the fact that the Eagles, like many other teams, were able to play games because the statewide school closure didn’t go into effect until March 16.
“I told them there were a lot of college guys, there were a lot of people that got pulled off the field that didn’t even know it was their last game they had played, and at least you knew, and you get to enjoy it and be with your friends and play your hardest on the last game,” Cassard said. “My ultimate message was we’re going to get tougher from this. We can use this as an opportunity to be leaders in our community in sports or whatever we’re going to do, because the tough people are going to survive this and get better from it. There’s a lot of trying to be positive with them and trying to put things in perspective …”
Live Oak defeated Evangel 13-4 behind a four-hit game from Rosevear and lost 3-2 Barbe on Friday after the tournament schedule was shuffled when some teams backed out.
Even while trying to stay positive, Cassard said the toughest part was actually letting his team know its season was likely going to be on hold.
“I’ve had to tell kids that their loved ones have passed away or their grandma passed away,” Cassard said. “I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news for a long time, but I’ve never had to do that. I almost got mad because I thought it wasn’t fair. I wish somebody else would have to come tell the kids that I’ve been around that this is it. But then you’ve got to look at yourself as you’re supposed to be the leader of this group of young men, and I’ve got to stay stronger, which is even the harder part – not to get emotional because you love those kids, and it was tough. It was a lot tougher than giving a talk after we lost in the quarterfinals or whatever. It was way tougher, because I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to give them misinformation. But I also didn’t want to play it off as ‘this will be OK.’ I gave them the worst-case scenario really, and it ended up being more than likely the truth.”
Shutting it down
Doyle began going through its pre-game routine with players hitting in the batting cages and pitchers warming up, but then school administrators from Pineville came on the field to shut down the tournament.
“It was kind of like, ‘Oh wow!’ I wasn’t ready to hear it, and I definitely wasn’t ready to talk to my guys about it,” Beatty said.
“We were there ready to go, and it was a shock, but then just the uncertainty of what’s going to follow – the weeks to come,” Beatty said. “We didn’t know, and I think that was the biggest thing, like, ‘Man, this is really happening. We could lose our whole season.’ We didn’t know for sure, and the boys were upset. There were some tears in the dugout.”
Beatty said the news was particularly tough for Brock Adams, one of the team’s seniors.
“With Brock being a senior and looking forward to one last year with these guys that he’s been playing with most of his life and stuff, it was tough to watch him in the dugout,” Beatty said. “It was hard on him, and all these juniors are real close. It was quiet. It was like it was just telling somebody the worst news ever. It was really quiet and solemn and nobody was saying anything. When I told them what happened and what to expect, they just kind of gathered their things and walked out the dugout. Then I had to go meet with the parents and they were fired up because we were ready to play. It was just uncontrollable.”
Said Adams, who got the win on the mound in Doyle’s victory over Leesville: “It wasn’t the greatest, I can tell you that. It just didn’t feel right because I didn’t know that it was going to be my last game. When you get to the end of the season, you know, ‘hey, this is potentially my last game.’ We were just starting the season, so we still had all of that ahead of us. We were gelling really well.”
Still trying to play
Live Oak was supposed to play Sulphur on March 15, but instead the Eagles were back home by noon on Saturday, March 14. Cassard said he attempted to schedule games for that Sunday in hopes of giving his senior players a final home game in the event the season doesn’t resume, but that didn’t pan out.
Likewise, Beatty tried to schedule more games for his team after their tournament was scrapped.
“I rode with (Doyle assistant) Coach (Darrell) Frasier,” Beatty said. “He’s driving and you know me, I want to play so bad, I immediately got on the horn and tried to find teams to play, but of course, everybody had this game scheduled, that game scheduled. I didn’t care who I played, where I played, whatever. I was trying to find us a game. I want to play baseball. We all want to play baseball, so if we can’t play, I’m going to try to find somewhere to play, and for the two-and-a-half hours home, that’s what I did.”
Like Cassard, Beatty was unable to schedule another game.
“It would have been nice just to have one more, maybe two more games for those guys, because we were having a special year already,” Beatty said.
Cassard said being on the road with so much turmoil regarding the season was a plus for his team.
“I was glad that we were on the road because we could spend all those hours together and kind of enjoy the last few games together,” Cassard said. “It was better that we were out on the road, on the bus together, in the hotel together spending that time and being able to communicate the right message to them. I was glad that we were there for that.”
For Doyle, which had designs on a return trip to the state tournament after finishing as the Class 2A runner-up last season, Beatty said the lesson in all of this isn’t complicated.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” Beatty said. “Like last year, we don’t know when we were going to get back, if you’re ever going to have that chance to play for another state championship, and when you get to play for one, take care of business. That’s one thing I’ve been preaching to them.”
It’s also about the bigger picture when it comes to halting the spring sports season.
“We’re going to look back and know that it was the best thing, and it was the right thing,” Cassard said. “Hopefully the timetable is shortened …”
From Rob DeArmond | The News