Student Voice: The Night the Lights Went Out on My Baseball Career — and My Normal High School Life

The Crusaders, the baseball team at Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, California, line up for the national anthem before a game.

Phew! Phew! Phew!

This is the sound of me throwing on an empty baseball field just down the road from my house. I hadn’t thrown for a few days at this point and I’m at ease with the way my arm is treating me. I’m throwing harder than usual. Maybe it’s stress. It probably is. My last competitive outing as a relief pitcher for my high school baseball team was March 5, more than a month ago. I don’t remember the exact specifics or even the final score.

Unfortunately, that game doesn’t count anymore. It’s not my main concern. The vast and ruinous spread of COVID-19 not only canceled my senior baseball season for good but also prematurely ended my entire baseball career.

We were getting ready for a Friday night contest under the lights in Burlingame, California, 20 minutes south of San Francisco. We don’t play many evening games, which makes them adored and enjoyed by parents, coaches and players. The festive mood was highlighted by food and drinks as we patiently waited for the junior varsity game before ours to wrap up. So when the news leaked that the parent of a student at school was diagnosed with the coronavirus, our seemingly normal heartbeats went up a notch.

There was a 30 percent chance of rain going into the game. Now, there was a 110 percent chance of utter fear and apprehension.

“Something feels odd. Something is going to happen,” I told a teammate before the game.”I have a strange vibe right now.”

Let it be known that I don’t read palms and am probably less enticed to after this saga, but something was legitimately bothering me. During our pregame quad-pulls exercise, one of the coaches approached me and underscored what I was thinking.

“Hey, this isn’t looking good right now. Don’t tell anyone; keep warming up,” he said. “But it looks like they’re going to shut us down.”

However disappointed, we quickly understood that the magnitude of our situation was extremely far from what our basketball team was going through that evening. Before their playoff bout against a beatable team, the game was unplugged and postponed due to the school’s COVID-19 connection. When it was revealed later that a student tested positive for the virus, the basketball team’s entire season was snatched from them by league officials. One of the school’s greatest athletic teams ever will never again have their day on the hardwood, and it’s a tough pill to swallow.

Stuff happens, though. We weren’t in the basketball team’s shoes; we weren’t stranded on a cruise ship; we didn’t have grandparents suffering to breathe. We didn’t have any of that, yet we were concerned about not playing baseball.

Steven Rissotto

It’s a gut punch, but if I were in the position to run any type of spring sporting league, I’d shut us down too. Heck, worrying about baseball at this point seems almost useless. People are dying, depressed and scared.

I don’t even know what day it is today. Every morning, every afternoon, every evening — it’s all, well, the same. Never has Yogi Berra’s famous quote about “déjà vu all over again” seemed more apt.

It’s been a long while since I’ve been at home for this many consecutive long, dull days. I’ve started a routine where I wake up every morning, rip the covers in a flash, and look in the mirror to see if I’m Bill Murray in Groundhog Day yet.

The events that have taken place after California’s shelter-in-place order have turned out to be a little less adventurous and a little more mind-wrecking.

I’ve struggled to work on my baseball skills. I’ve thrown a handful of times, but I don’t think I’ve even swung a bat once. My workouts are abbreviated, sometimes nonexistent. It’s difficult to become motivated when everything heard around you has the opposite effect. Around this time during the season, I would be completely energized every morning, ready to work out. I often used my senior physical education class to complete my two required workouts during the week.

At home, the distractions are endless. Falling into television land, scrolling through social media, unneeded eating at random hours of the day are all potential pitfalls. Although I still feel healthy enough to play right now, the void baseball leaves in my life creates ongoing “could haves” and “should haves” in terms of working out.

The fact that everything is a huge question mark is frightening. The fact that I might not have a regular graduation is cringeworthy. The very slim possibility that I may graduate walking across my living room on Zoom scares me to death, almost as if four years of hard work has virtually no reward.

I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to walk across the theater stage to receive my diploma on May 24, a tradition that has occurred for 70 years at my San Francisco high school. I’m disappointed that I’ll never play organized baseball again, as I enter college to pursue a broadcasting and journalism career. My silver lining through all of this is knowing that the relationships that I created through baseball, like teammates and coaches, will last well into adulthood and beyond.

I fell in love with baseball in third grade and never looked back. At a young age, I stunk in Little League but got better after endless hours of throwing a tennis ball against my garage, swinging a bat a million times and watching to learn as much of the sport as possible. I love the way the dirt smells, the sound of cleats crunching crisply against pavement, the ball hitting the mitt. It’s a game of feels and sounds, which is beyond calming.

Being part of a team has helped me learn key attributes that I can utilize as I enter adulthood, such as humility, confidence, leadership and respect.

I love baseball because anything can happen. The best team could destroy the worst team one day, and it could be the other way around the next. It reminds me about the reality of our current moment. Yeah, I’m upset, I’m disappointed, but I’ve come to terms with it. After all, life is 50 percent random. This time around, life just happened to throw me a curveball. What happens when you get thrown a curveball in baseball? You wait back, square it up and hit the thing 450 feet to dead center field. Of course, it’s far more complicated than that, which is why we need to work together on killing off this pandemic. It takes more than one.

An old coach once told me that the 11th commandment is to “find a way.” Now, I’m not sure if Moses came up with that, but it fits many situations in life that need conquering.

COVID-19 could use some conquering.

I’m going to follow the rules and make the most of these rough times. After all, my actions might help save a life or two.

That’s what matters.

“Pandemic Notebook” is an ongoing collection of first-person, student-written articles about what it is like to live through the coronavirus pandemic. Have an idea? Please contact Executive Editor Andrew Brownstein at Andrew@The74million.org.

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