BRISTOL, Tenn. – The King University baseball team had already won 15 games, one more than in all of the 2019 season.
It appeared a special spring was on the horizon. Instead, the season came to a premature end due to the coronavirus that has spread across the globe, bringing the sports world to a stop.
“No matter what is going on, it is kind of frustrating that you are having a good year and you don’t want that to end,” King baseball coach Blaine Brown said. “Probably the worst part of this whole ordeal regardless of how we were doing, good or bad, I just feel awful for the seniors.
“The other guys will still have another chance to play, but those seniors, the majority of them are going to be done.”
King dropped a 10-9 decision at UVa-Wise on March 11, and were slated to visit Conference Carolinas foe Southern Wesleyan two days later.
The Tornado certainly didn’t anticipate what happened next.
“It has been a little bit kind of surreal. A week ago [Wednesday] we were playing,” said Brown, in his 12th season at King, his ninth as head coach. “There was a little bit of talk about the virus and everything that was going on, but myself and our team had no clue to the extent to how serious it was at that time ... a little over a week ago we were playing baseball and knew no different.”
That has certainly changed, with spring sports having been shut among all NCAA Division II schools in the nation. It was extended to basketball as well when the NCAA Tournament, one of the crown jewels of college athletics, was also scrapped.
“It is one of those things where you realize how big a scale it is when you see everything going on,” Brown said. “When I talked to our guys the day it was officially announced that it was suspended at that point. I just told them in life, life is not fair and at their young age a lot of them haven’t got to experience that.”
That includes 11 seniors, all of which will be granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, but Brown expects at least two-thirds of them to move to the next stage of their lives, whether it be additional education, pursuing employment or other options.
“They have the right mindset that they are coming to school to further their education and whatever career they are wanting to go in…,” Brown said. “It is tough, it really is. They are kind of torn because they want to play baseball and want to finish out their senior year, but they also have aspirations beyond baseball.
“As they get slapped in the face of reality, you are going to have to decide. ‘Alright, is it time to become an adult and go into the real world or continue playing baseball.’ ”
While the players mull their futures, the coaches are busy trying to think ahead to 2021. Even that isn’t normal since the NCAA isn’t allowing recruiting visits until April 15.
At least for now any contacts are being done through phone calls, texts or emails.
“We are really just trying to gather names of prospective prospects that are still out there and available through high school and junior college,” Brown said. “We can’t go see them and can’t bring them on campus, but at this point it is more about just gathering information to where once that date hopefully comes and we are able to get out, we can go watch these kids or bring them on campus. “
Even that is a challenge. Both high school and junior college prospects aren’t anxious to make commitments until they know what the current seniors are going to do. And, those seniors need time to make such a difficult decision.
“Some of the kids we have talked to honestly are waiting to see what happens with our seniors,” Brown said. “They are waiting to see, well, if your seniors are going to come back, we may go back to junior college or if you had a starting position that is going to be there for two more years, then I may not be as interested as I was if they were only going to be there for one year.
“There are just so many ripple effects with this that probably we don’t even know the full extent of it until probably next year or the year after.”
Brown has tried to share a positive message with his team, nearly all of whom have left campus and will begin online classes on Monday.
“This is an opportunity to use this and turn it for good, rather it be academically, rather it be socially, rather it be community,” Brown said. “I just believe that everything happens for a reason and as bad as it may seem right now that if you can make this into a positive, you have just got to find a way to do it.
“I have tried to leave them with that message and told them even though you understand that with your head it makes sense, it is still OK to have your heart hurt a little bit. That is OK. If it didn’t, then it probably wouldn’t mean that much to you.”