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An unprecedented spring

An unprecedented spring

Thomas M. Columbus March 11, 2021
Baseball, other sports return after cancellations, delays.

Before the dawn of Easter, before the melting of the last frost, even before Major League Baseball fans hear the “Play ball!” of Opening Day — before all of these, college baseball brings us spring.

empty baseball fieldLast year saw the baseball Flyers play their first game — in the relative warmth of the South — on Valentine’s Day. By the time of the first home game March 9 at Woerner Field, they had 14 games behind them and were looking forward to three more home games the following weekend.

“It was not on our radar,” said pitcher Tyler Jones ’20, “that would be our last game.”

COVID-19 was, however, already affecting college basketball tournaments. And then students were sent home.

“We had a game scheduled for Friday,” Jones said, “and we were practicing.”

Then at practice, one player heard the news that baseball seasons were being canceled. The news spread among the players.

“I was stunned,” Jones said.

While the team continued its practice for 30 minutes, he said, “I felt like a zombie.”

After practice the coaches explained the situation as best they could with what little they knew at the time. For the players, there was a period of confusion.

“Then it set in,” Jones said. “This ride is over.”

Last spring’s team included Jones and 14 other seniors. “There were a lot of tears,” Jones said. “We said our goodbyes. I haven’t seen some of those guys since.”

“There were a lot of tears. We said our goodbyes. I haven’t seen some of those guys since.”

Spring 2020 brought not baseball but uncertainty to student-athletes. There was talk of the NCAA giving blanket waivers. When the NCAA did issue a ruling that seniors would have another year of eligibility, schools had to themselves decide what they should and could do. What about roster size, scholarships, funding? With massive losses of revenue due to the pandemic, college athletics — like most endeavors — faced serious financial issues.

“There were three or four weeks of checking the news every day,” Jones said.

Some players had already lined up jobs for after graduation. “They accepted that baseball was over and moved on,” Jones said.

Others had to consider the possibility, if UD did not allow seniors back, of transferring to another school for a fifth year. When the news arrived of UD welcoming the seniors back, those who wished to continue playing baseball had to determine if UD had a graduate program appropriate for them.

First baseman Alex Brickman ’20 saw the chance to pursue an MBA at UD as “an opportunity I could not pass up,” he said.

For another player, the decision to play an additional year was an easy one. “I had already added a minor and a sales program to my degree,” said outfielder Eddie Pursinger ’21. His plan had been to be a student but not an athlete in his fifth year, but, he said, “Once we got word we’d be getting our eligibility back, the decision to come back really made itself.”

“Once we got word we’d be getting our eligibility back, the decision to come back really made itself.”

Jones, the University’s 2020 Presidential Scholar-Athlete and current president of UD’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, majored in political science and international studies. “My dad was a high school government teacher,” he said. “I’ve always been passionate about government and politics.” During the summer of 2019, he interned in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Rep. Mike Turner ’92 through the University’s DC Flyers program.

He’s now enrolled in UD’s Master of Public Administration program.

In all, eight members of this year’s team were seniors when the pandemic struck last spring.

This January, as UD students returned to campus after the winter break, baseball team members got eight-hour weeks of lifting, individualized training and small-group work. It was almost like normal — except for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, a few quarantines and limited use of some facilities because of distancing requirements.

As January turned into February, 20-hour weeks were allowed, “more like what real practice is,” Jones said.

As the players were approaching the scheduled start of the season (Feb. 19 at the University of South Carolina), Pursinger said of his return of another year, “I felt like I had some unfinished business.”

Brickman echoed that sentiment: “I’m looking forward to playing one last season with the guys I came in to school with and bringing a championship back to Dayton.”

“You never know when the game can be taken away from you. So you treat every game as if it will be your last.”

“We are trying to be resilient,” Jones said, “making the best of this and trying to play as much baseball as we can. There is a sense of gratitude for the game, not just among the seniors but also among the underclassmen.

“You never know when the game can be taken away from you. So you treat every game as if it will be your last.”


Busy days, pandemic willing

The baseball Flyers’ schedule had them opening with seven games on the road, including four against top-20 teams (South Carolina and Tennessee) before their March 5 home opener against Oakland.

Dealing with the pandemic has affected scheduling for baseball and other sports. The baseball team’s games with A-10 opponents were arranged into series, each comprising four games over three days. Dayton will play 24 conference games with six different opponents.

Most sports will be playing unusual schedules. For example, men’s soccer (in normal times a fall sport) has a spring schedule of 10 games, six against A-10 schools. The A-10 preseason poll picked Dayton second behind favorite Saint Louis.

Men’s and women’s soccer won’t be the only fall sports temporarily becoming spring sports. So will volleyball (A-10 preseason No. 1 pick), golf, cross country and tennis. Fifteen of Dayton’s 16 teams will be in action in the spring; football opted out of a truncated Pioneer Football League season.

As schedules were announced, they came with a caveat: “Scheduled athletic events are contingent on recommendations from the CDC, state, local public health and University officials.”

For up-to-date scheduling information and other sports news, see daytonflyers.com.

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