Holding On to Hope

M. Terry / SFVS

Birmingham High is still hoping there’s a chance the Patriots can defend the City Section championship they won at Dodger Stadium last year.

It’s the nature of baseball, Matt Mowry says, that makes one believe the seemingly impossible is possible.

“You can be down a couple runs in the last inning with two outs, but you figure out a way to keep battling and battling and pull off a win. That’s what we’re hoping for here,” he said.

The baseball coach at Birmingham Community Charter High School isn’t talking about one game in particular. Instead, Mowry is referring to how he’s still hopeful that there is still a chance for some kind of resumption of prep spring sports despite the announcement made Monday, March 23, by officials at the Los Angeles Unified School District that schools will remain closed until at least May 1 due to the pandemic coronavirus outbreak, and the bleak forecasts of others saying the schools will not be re-opened at all this academic year.

Aiding that belief was the decision last week by the 10 commissioners of the California Interscholastic Federation to postpone their decision on whether to formally cancel the rest of spring season this academic year. They are scheduled to convene again on April 3.

“Yeah, I’m an optimist. I’m one who always tries to stay on the positive — hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” said Mowry, whose Birmingham teams have won the last three City Section Open and Division I baseball titles.

“At this point, if they’re still waiting and hoping and talking, we still have a shot and a chance. Hopefully, when the CIF meets again in a couple of weeks, things will be a little better. They might even say, ‘you know what? Let’s hold off another week or two before we make our decision.’”

Should the school year resume, Mowry suggested going into league play or even some post season format following a brief period of practice and conditioning. 

“I know, having communicated with a lot of coaches, that they’d have no issues with even extending out the season after school is over. Having the playoffs in late June, even. If it is just having your league play to get yourself ready, then to playoffs, then let’s go,” Mowry said.

Craig Becker, the softball coach at Kennedy High School, is slightly less optimistic than Mowry about the resumption of the sport season. But he said not all of his hope has vanished.

If nothing else, Becker said, schools should try and provide some sort of competition for graduating 2020 seniors.

“What I’m hoping for…it would be nice to have — instead of a season — a tournament that would encompass all levels we have for softball,” Becker said.

“That would be the best. One gigantic tournament at each level. For example, I know there’re 20 teams in [City] Division I; some of it gets broken up into an Open Division, but we don’t really need to do that. I would just randomly take a top four, and make the [other] 16 teams play their way in.”

Both coaches believe the players are still working out on their own, remaining in some kind of condition in case their seasons can resume.

“Most of the kids are doing stuff anyway,” Becker said. “The ones who might be hurting a little more are the seniors: but most of them are doing something. But we went through a lot of training, and we did reach out to them [before schools were closed] to stay in shape because we didn’t know when we’d come back and they all agreed. Pitchers and catchers definitely need to run. Baseball is a little different because of the throwing motion for pitchers. For softball the kids just need to throw and they can do that on their own.”

Mowry said he has maintained contact with his team via an app, and a team trainer did provide a workout program that players can do at their homes. “There’s a link they can go on, to try and keep in shape,” he said. “We’ve talked to them about doing [the things] to keep their arms in as much shape as possible; play catch as much as they can with their family — even throwing a ball against a wall. But they’re on their own in that aspect.”

Both men also acknowledge that there is just no way to predict what will happen, because they haven’t been in a situation like this.

“The only thing that could be a parallel might be the recent fires, but they didn’t last this long,” Becker said. “There, I think the most we were down was a week. And we made those games up. But this is something new. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“I was around in 1994 when we had the [Northridge earthquake]. And that shut us down for a week or two,” Mowry said. “As a player I was part of the 1989 teacher’s strike, and that took place right at the end of the season; it nullified our playoffs and stuff like that. That was probably the closest thing as far as me being around something like this. It did take away being able to play and not having school — and not knowing when. It was kinda brutal.”

All they can do, they said, is ride out the statewide shutdown, “stay-at-home” declaratives until they’re lifted by public officials. When those decisions are made, no one knows.

“What the fear is going to be is, if we go back to school and somebody comes down with the virus, and gives it to somebody else, the school might be open [to litigation],” Becker said. “But I’m only guessing. I know we’re doing online schooling with the kids and it’s tough.”

But there can still be hope until there is none.

“That’s part of baseball itself,” Mowry said. “As long as you have a strike left and an at-bat, you have a chance to win. As long as that play still has to be made, you still have a shot. At this point, if they’re still waiting and hoping and talking, we still have a shot and a chance.” 

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