Scappoose baseball hoping season can still be played
On the morning of Thursday, March 12, the Scappoose baseball practiced bright and early, getting in some good work before the school day truly began.
Head coach Cameron Webb had been enthused and impressed with essentially everything about his players' preseason habits from their work ethics to seniors embracing leadership roles to young guys beginning to buy into the Indians' culture. His hopes heading into the 2020 season seemed to rise with each passing day.
And then, the sports world stopped. Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, the NBA postponed its season and every collegiate and high school sports governing body fell in line. The OSAA suspended the start of the spring season until April 1 and then eventually extended it through April 28. The Indians, after grinding through their morning practice, were due back that afternoon on March 12. Instead, Webb, in just his second year as a head skipper, was forced to relay some of the despairing news a coach could tell his team. There would no season, at least for now. There wouldn't be any practices, either, no batting cage trips, bullpen sessions, weight room excursions, at least as a team. The news, given to a group of teenagers ready to take this year head-on, was crushing.
"I feel like we've come so far, and we had such great momentum coming into this season that it made it extra frustrating," Webb said. "But we're trying to stay positive and control the things we can control. If the worst thing that comes out of this is a shortened or lost baseball season, then we're in pretty good shape. We're trying to keep that perspective and keep everyone healthy."
Webb and his coaching staff pushed the Indians hard, putting them through preseason practices twice a day with marked results and zero pushback from the players. Even when it got hard, Scappoose still hustled and toiled. The veterans put in extra work, running on their own after practice. Newcomers followed their example. Groups of more than 20 could be seen racing from foul pole to foul pole, putting in conditioning long after practice was over. This, after an offseason of early morning hitting forums in the fall and winter. With just a few more sessions until opening day, this program was taking off and becoming the sort of outfit Webb envisioned when he took the job last spring.
"True success is defined by taking advantage of the time you have and the way those guys worked was everything we could have expected," Webb said. "What they put in when they had the chance was great."
The JBO program is brimming. The high school level has enough kids out for three teams. This was the start of something different, Webb felt. The buy-in was there, from the middle schoolers to the freshmen to the varsity incumbents. On March 11, Scappoose had full squad scrimmages for both its junior varsity and varsity teams going on both fields. And once the games were over, more than 30 seventh and eighth graders took the field for JBO practice.
"The energy was super high and hopefully that lasts through however long this is," Webb said. "These kids are giving us everything they have. There is a long way to go, still but our culture couldn't be much better. We're just lucky to have really great kids, so it's fun to work with those guys. I miss seeing them out there every day."
Webb said he is maintaining his sanity by staying in touch with the kids and proactively coming up with ways to keep the team connected. This past Monday the manager organized a team video call with the varsity squad, but he didn't have to really say a word. The players, who were already staying in touch with one another, instantly stoked the conversations, ribbing one another, trading playful verbal jabs, talking about quarantine tips and in-home workouts. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. The clubhouse chemistry Webb hoped would propel this team was still there. But one thing Webb wanted to impart on this unit, was that no matter if the season is played or not, the bonds they've built over the years will outlast any pandemic or any hiatus put upon them.
"If you talk to any former athlete they almost all tell you is what they miss most, what meant the most to them was the relationships with their teammates," Webb said. "Obviously we want to be playing baseball, but the most important thing is the relationships with each other and that's been good seeing that continue."
Scappoose's strength and conditioning coach has put together a bunch of workout challenges for all of its athletes regardless of season, so players are entering their numbers and times on a Google document to keep their competitive edges sharp. On Friday, March 13, team captains Ben Anicker and Logan Travis approached Webb with a plan. With access to Scappoose's baseball shed, the seniors could put together team practices four times a week on their own during the month-long hiatus. As much as it pained Webb to shut down the plot and explain to his captains why that idea wouldn't fly, the passion these guys have for the game was front and center. Whenever the season starts, or if it doesn't and Scappoose is forced to go into summer baseball without its seniors, these players are itching to get on the field.
"The energy would be so high," Webb said. "Seeing that craving from the kids is bittersweet in a way because it makes my heartache for those seniors that came to all the optional practices, all the morning stuff all year and were motivating the younger guys. To see some of their senior memories taken away from them is pretty painful. It's a reminder that nothing is guaranteed. We have to appreciate every moment we have."
If this season can get off the ground come late April, there are several ways it could unfold, especially if the OSAA is willing to extend its governing powers through June, which it most likely would be considering the unprecedented circumstances. Webb said he would worry about kids' pitching arms being ready to throw because players aren't allowed to even play catch at the moment. Some of Webb's players have nets they can throw into at home or a batting cage in the backyard, but not every Indian has that kind of access. Ramping those hurlers back up would take time. Webb believes teams wouldn't play three games a week because of the dearth of pitching. But make no mistake, Webb desperately wants the games to begin and is open for whatever the OSAA comes up with.
"I want to play as much as we can and I'd rather play a little bit than say 'Oh, it's not going to be optimal, let's cancel it,'" Webb said. "I want to get these kids as many games as possible and get as much baseball as possible. Maybe we can play a short league schedule where we play each team once or twice. It would be different, but maybe something different would play into our advantage for all we know."
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