In light of the gravity of the Coronavirus pandemic, the grief I have been experiencing the past few days over the dissolution of the college baseball season has been accompanied by a nagging sense of guilt. Amid the frightening death toll, community upheaval, barren grocery store shelves and the nationwide fear that seems to be spreading faster than the virus itself, it feels somewhat inappropriate to be crying over … baseball.
Especially when you consider the golden rule: there is no crying in baseball!
And yet I’ve wept.
Those who aren’t intimately entwined with college baseball may have difficulty comprehending the sorrow that has encased so many of us who are. Let me assure you, it is about much more than score cards or batting averages. Admittedly, there is tremendous sadness in the simple fact that I no longer have the opportunity to watch my son, Braden, and his Tulane University Green Wave teammates take the field. The abrupt end to the season has left a cavernous void, a chasm once filled with the crisp sound of bat meeting ball, the exhilaration of watching the umpire emphatically signify a punch-out, the anticipation of hearing the game’s broadcaster announce the starting lineup.
But the losses extend far beyond that.
It’s the loss of so much potential. As the lights went out on the 2020 season, Tulane’s 15-2 record represented the team’s strongest start in nearly 50 years. It’s impossible not to imagine how the journey might have continued for the Green Wave, ranked #20 in the nation. A conference title? A Super Regional win? A trip to Omaha? We will never know ── and that is devastating. “I needed more time,” was the first thing Braden said to me after learning that the NCAA had terminated the path to the College World Series. “I just needed more time.”
It’s the loss of hope. It’s the gut-wrenching realization that there is no resolution to the 2020 season. There will be no more opportunities to hit through the cycle. No more chances to toss a no-hitter. No more weekly conference awards or media acclaim. No more watching the team climb in the rankings. The dugout is closed. For players and coaches, it’s an unfathomable reality that has left most in a daze. While a valuable life lesson has been thrust upon these young men ── appreciate every moment, take nothing for granted ── it indisputably has come at a heartbreaking price. As parents, we’ve watched our child’s core shatter into a thousand pieces, with absolutely no way to make it better. We just needed more time.
It’s the loss of promise. The endless months ── years, really ── of tireless work and training by every kid on the roster wasn’t supposed to culminate so prematurely. After pouring every ounce of heart and soul into their sport, the team is left with nothing but an incomplete lineup card of “what if’s.” What if we had beaten Long Beach State in that next series? What if we had set a new all-time win record? What if we had clinched the NCAA title for strikeouts? For hits? For ERA? There was something undeniably special about this team. We all felt it. We just needed more time.
It’s the loss of the experience. No more rivalries or road trips, bullpens or batting practices. For college seniors, it’s the overwhelming realization that they had ── completely unknowingly ── played their final game. Although Braden is a junior, it is quite possibly the end of his college baseball career, too. While much remains to be seen regarding how everything will play out, my son hopes to be drafted this year. Yet it was his desire to fulfill a lifelong goal of playing D1 baseball that prompted him, after two years of junior college baseball, to turn down a six-figure offer in the 2019 MLB draft in favor of attending Tulane. That was a pretty big decision for a 20-year-old kid who had less than $10 in his pocket. But he had dreamed for years about making it as a D1 pitcher. And even though the assignment lasted four short weeks, the reality of that privilege far surpassed his expectations. From the unbreakable bond with his brothers on the diamond ── which I believe will last a lifetime ── to Tulane’s top-notch coaches, facilities and enthusiastic social media promotion, my son truly embraced his dream. I have never seen him happier.
But in all likelihood, this was it; the month-long season representing not only his fleeting D1 experience, but ours, as well. Sadly, my husband and I never even made it to Greer Field at Turchin Stadium; our first scheduled trip to New Orleans was still three weeks away when the season was cancelled. The funds we set aside to travel to the American Athletic Conference Championship in Florida at the end of May remain untouched. We just needed more time.
It’s the loss of life as we know it. Because we are, and always have been, our kids’ biggest fans. While coaches have come and gone throughout different phases of their baseball careers, we have been by their sides from the beginning. We are the ones who first aligned whiffle balls on tees when they were 3 or 4 years old and struggled to grasp a bat. We are the ones who coached their Little League teams, shuttled them to travel ball tournaments, shelled out cash for an endless supply of cleats and gloves, pitching lessons and batting coaches. We are the ones who always cheered the loudest in the stands. The ones adorned from head to toe in team colors. The ones who celebrated their accomplishments then worked extra innings to keep them from getting discouraged when their batting average slumped or their ERA skyrocketed. We just needed more time.
It’s a loss of routine. Because for many of us, baseball is such an enormous part of our lives. During weekday Green Wave games, I was usually at my daughter’s dance studio, where I could capture pitches intermingled with pliés thanks to the live feed on my cell phone. But the unequivocal highlight of my week had become “Friday Night Lights,” the spot where Braden fell in the pitching rotation. At 4:30 pm PST, I would sync my laptop to the TV screen and congregate on the couch with family while the Green Wave appeared before us in full color and 65-inch depth. The feeling of being part of the crowd was magnified by the ongoing exchange I enjoyed with the other Tulane moms in our baseball group chat. Together we celebrated every offensive hit, cheered every defensive strikeout, collectively supported every player. (Now we anxiously assess our kids’ emotional spirits and future plans; who will come home, who will stay in New Orleans. Who needs a roommate, who can’t find toilet paper.) Today, it’s hard for me to even look at my calendar; through the end of May, “Game” is stenciled in permanent green ink on 40 different dates. Highly anticipated events that now will never see a first pitch, a seventh inning stretch, a post-game dugout celebration. We just needed more time.
It’s a loss of connection. We no longer sit in the stands together or engage in a game-time group chat, bonded by our common parental journey and shared pastime. (Nothing unites a band of baseball parents quite like an umpire’s unfair call, a truth that was proven in week 2 of Tulane’s 2020 season.) And with Braden 1,815 miles from home, the prospect of catching a glimpse of him on TV on a day he wasn’t pitching made me feel so much closer to him (he was always easy to spot with his 6’4″ frame and light blue team hoodie). What remains is an emptiness I can’t shake. We just needed more time.
It’s a loss of identity. Ever since my son committed to becoming a Green Wave, I’ve displayed a Tulane Mom sticker on the back of my car window. I proudly ── and superstitiously ── donned my Angry Wave T-shirt and Tulane Baseball sweatshirt every Friday, which I wholeheartedly believe helped his pitching efforts (because if you aren’t superstitious about baseball, are you really even a baseball parent?). The past month, my Facebook page has drowned in a sea of Green Wave baseball posts. Before the season started, I had never even downloaded the Twitter app, and yet I quickly became addicted to hashtags like #FearTheWave. But now every Facebook post, every Instagram snapshot, every Tweet from anyone even remotely connected to college baseball benches me in another wave of sadness. There is no more scouring Tulane’s social media posts or the local New Orleans Advocate news articles. What do we even do with ourselves in the absence of baseball? We just needed more time.
In the midst of my inability to contain my tears this past Friday night ── longing for the experience I’d savored the previous four Friday nights watching my son and his teammates post another “W” on the scoreboard ── my 9-year-old daughter quietly slipped over to the kitchen table and made me a card. Within a green heart and red-stitched baseball, she wrote the words, “U Will Always Be A Tulane Mama.” The sweet sentiment made me cry even harder, tears dotting the Angry Wave shirt I was still wearing despite the newfound darkness of Friday Night Lights. (Though I had to smile when I saw that along the bottom she had written in block letters, “WE’RE GOING TO BEAT THE CORONAVIRUS LIKE WE BEAT EVERY OTHER TEAM!”)
In light of so much loss, it can be difficult to feel appreciative. But through the tears and the sorrow, I am forcing myself to be grateful.
Grateful for the month of baseball that we did experience. Grateful I was able to witness Braden pitch a complete game during the team’s lone road trip series at Fullerton, one of the proudest moments of my life. Grateful to have met so many amazing Tulane parents who had traveled from near and far. Grateful that some of them have become what I suspect will be lifelong friends. Grateful to have watched every game of the brief season on the university’s live feed. Grateful to have met the coaches, and heard their positive feelings toward Braden. Grateful that my son’s D1 experience lasted just long enough for him to earn a nickname (“Diesel”). Grateful that he started the season strong, because while we had no way of knowing it at the time, he would not be given the opportunity to gain momentum. Grateful for my group of baseball moms, without whom I’m not sure I could have survived the past several days. Grateful for every single 2020 Green Wave wall slap, though right now it hurts far too much to re-watch any of them. (If you haven’t witnessed the pure energy and excitement of this tradition, Google “Green Wave Slap the Wall.” You won’t regret it.)
Yes, we needed more time. But as many of us grapple with such an uncertain and frightening period in our nation, this much I know for sure: I will forever hold tight to the extraordinary emotion and the bittersweet memories of one absolutely magical month of D1 baseball. The ride was far too short. But I’m grateful I didn’t miss the journey altogether … and that I will always be a Tulane Baseball Mama.