With the coronavirus putting the season in peril, a summer return may be in the cards

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - After successes last spring and during summer play, the NHS baseball team was looking forward to the start to the season before it was thwarted by the coronavirus.

Like hundreds of spring sports teams throughout the state, the Newberg High School baseball team is playing the waiting game. On a daily basis directives regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus are changing, but for now its guaranteed that the Tigers won't return to the practice field until at least April 1.

The layoff is expected to be longer than that and as the pandemic worsens and social distancing is encouraged for extended periods of time, coaches fear the entire season might be cancelled. NHS coach Trey Watt said the unknown makes this process difficult.

"It's been hard with the lack of information and having to adjust day-to-day," he said. "Originally, we were able to practice, but then the messaging said we couldn't practice and things are getting more restrictive. It's great that we're taking steps to keep everybody safe and our kids see it as a good opportunity to focus on what we can control, which is our attitude and focusing on the positive."

Team activities ceased on Friday when the OSAA announced the suspension of spring sports through March 31. That suspension is expected to be extended, Watt said, as is the closure of local schools barring any significant slowing of COVID-19's spread.

High school baseball coaches have a plan in place should the spring season be cancelled altogether.

"We have some good contingency plans to prepare for the summer so the seniors can have a season," Watt said. "I've met with several high school coaches around the state and we have a plan for our kids to get a season whether it's now or in the summer. We will organize something and come together as a group. When we're allowed to come together, we will, and we will allow the kids to showcase the time and effort they have put in."

The effort from the Tigers has been outstanding up to this point, Watt said. After a successful summer during which the team had a strong record and showcased its defensive abilities, Watt expected this group to do well in the spring.

Watt said the team has been together in some capacity since Jan. 2, when there were weekly restrictions on how long they could work out and they had essentially seen each other every day from March 1 until the OSAA's announcement.

Players and coaches are staying in touch through the messaging app GroupMe and Watt said it has allowed the team to social distance while maintaining its camaraderie. Players, he said, are working out when they can at home.

"We have 34 really high character families that have molded and helped inspire some great young men," Watt said. "They have great work ethic, great character, they're respectful and they show integrity. They're a selfless, high-energy group with a good senior class and junior class, and after last summer our kids were looking to be pretty competitive this season.

"We pitch well and we play good defense. The kids have created that culture – they're very accurate, throwing wise, and I think that's what our strength is. That was our strength during the summer as well. When you're able to hold teams down on the defensive side of the ball, it really jump-starts your offense."

Watt said the mindset and culture this group has developed will remain strong whenever the team returns to the ballfield. For now, they join the rest of society adrift in the unknown, waiting for the next instruction by those in power of what to do next.

Whether that means a late start to the season or not returning until summer, it remains to be seen. In the meantime, Watt is optimistic that this battle-tested group of baseball players can handle a unique new form of adversity.

"I absolutely love being around this group," he said. "They are an amazing group that has been through a lot, especially with all the coaching changes. The fact that they showed the persistence and perseverance to stick with this – especially now with what is going on – shows the strength of their character."

For further updates on the OSAA's plan for spring sports like baseball, keep an eye on or the OSAA Facebook and Twitter pages.

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