Just like that, season over
Players and coaches with Oregon State's baseball team were aboard a plane on a tarmac at Portland International Airport last Thursday morning. The overhead compartments were closed and takeoff seemed imminent for the 2 1/2-hour flight to Tucson, Arizona, where the Beavers were to face Arizona in the Pac-12-opening series for both schools.
At that moment, OSU coach Mitch Canham was sitting in his seat, participating in a conference call with university officials about the increasing threat of the coronavirus.
"And at some point I got the word: The season is suspended," Canham said Tuesday. "I asked the question: 'Should we get off the plane?' The answer: 'Yes.'"
Over the next two days, the bad news kept mounting.
"It's a lot to take in," said Canham, in his first season at the Oregon State helm. "What we knew that day was the season was suspended (indefinitely). A day later, it was no (College World Series), and then no practices, and finally you're told your whole season is shut down."
After a disappointing 5-9 start, including a three-game sweep by Cal Santa Barbara in the home-opening series March 6-8, the Beavers were champing at the bit to turn things around.
"My heart goes out to my (players)," Canham said. "They were looking forward to starting Pac-12 play, looking to have a big rebound. We're all wanting to go out and compete this year, but it's just not going to happen.
"Now I'm thinking about how I'm going to take care of these guys and their families. Some of them are a long way from home. We let them know things are going to be OK, that we can work through anything."
The university's classes are closed this week, and next week is spring vacation. OSU officials will re-evaluate the situation on March 29, but the hiatus is sure to be extended. On Tuesday, governor Kate Brown ordered Oregon schools (K-12) closed through April 28.
Canham and his coaching staff cannot hold practices or work with their players. The players are allowed to stay on campus and work out on their own, using university facilities.
"Some guys headed back home," Canham said. "Some are going to stay local. The guys are on their own. We'll make sure they are taken care of, both with housing and food."
Since Thursday, Oregon State's coaches have met daily to discuss what can be done and what needs to be done. They're putting together a calendar "that is going to help our student-athletes long-term," Canham said.
"At some point during or after a season, every athlete needs time to rest and recover," he said. "We'll build that into our calendar. We'll have Zoom (video conference) meetings to discuss what the overall plan is for our guys.
"Some of them are draft-eligible this year. We want to make sure we have a clear picture of everything. But right now, it's very early to make too many assumptions and put too much out there. Things are still very fluid."
It's a dead period for home or on-campus visits for recruiting. Phone calls and letters are allowed, so OSU coaches will be communicating that way with recruits.
For now, Canham is more concerned with the welfare of his current players.
"The big thing we're trying to express to the guys: Take a deep breath, don't make any rash decisions," he said. "Stay informed (about the coronavirus) to the best of your ability. There's frustration that they don't get to compete this season, but the message is, 'focus on what you can control right now.' "
That includes individuals keeping themselves in shape and improving their baseball skills as much as possible.
"I told them, 'Show me the guys who do the right thing when no one else is watching,'" Canham said. "Right now, there are not a lot of people watching. There is opportunity for a lot of solo time. It's a chance for guys to take care of school work and focus on body and development on their own.
"I told them, 'Check in with our athletic trainer (Davey LaCroix), let him know what you're at, what you're doing. Then go back to old-school days. Grab a net, grab a bucket of balls and hit that target. Be creative with doing stuff, but also making sure you're cautious wth it."
Canham said communication will be important in the ensuing weeks.
"We're for sure shut down until the 29th," he said. "We're getting updates every day. The university has a website to keep everyone updated on government regulations and university policy. We'll convey anything and everything we can (to the players). We want to make sure they're in a good place and that they understand what they can do and should not be doing."
Canham is supportive of the idea of giving all spring-sports athletes an extra year of eligibility.
"Having the season cut so short, that's something I would like to see," he said. "I haven't run through the scenarios to how that would affect things the next several years, but you want to give them that year."
It would mean each program, in essence, would have two classes of freshmen. And it would mean extra scholarships, which wouldn't be a bad thing for baseball, a sport that divides 11.7 rides among 35 athletes. Still, the money has to come from somewhere, a likely problem for cash-strapped athletic programs through the country.
Canham has enjoyed a little extra family time with wife Marlis and their two young children, Mack and Mya.
"Most of us (coaches) have kiddos at home," Canham said. "They're feeling safe. I have a strong support system. That's a good thing.
"We're trying to work remotely but are still coming into the office. We'll do it in a large space so we're not sitting too close to one another. We're all in good health."
And they'd like to keep it that way.
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