The Miami Hurricanes baseball team, ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation, had just defeated No. 12 UCF on Wednesday night, March 11, and was eager to fly the next morning to Blacksburg, Virginia, to face Virginia Tech for a weekend series.
Suddenly, word trickled down that the NBA had postponed its season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I assume our players knew it was coming,’’ UM baseball coach Gino DiMare told the Miami Herald in a Wednesday phone interview.
But the next day, after players boarded a bus headed to Coral Gables instead of a flight to Blacksburg and were scattered at a rest stop, they already had learned about the indefinite suspension of all athletic-related activities — including NCAA championships such as the College World Series.
“When we got back to campus, we met in the locker room,’’ DiMare said. “The initial reaction was one of being stunned. A lot of blank looks on their faces.’’
The clincher came Tuesday, when the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that it had canceled all athletics through the end of the 2019-20 academic year. The season that might have been had been extinguished for the four-time national champion Hurricanes.
Tuesday after the announcement, the baseball team had a conference call with DiMare, UM athletic director Blake James, senior associate athletic director for compliance Craig Anderson and head trainer Vinny Scavo. “It was fairly quiet on the players’ end,’’ said DiMare, who noted that thankfully everyone is feeling well.
“The players’ minds moving forward: ‘Where do we go from here?’’’ the coach said. “Some kids are flying back home. Guys are all out of the dorms or moving out as we speak. They’ll continue classes online from home.
What could have been
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“We’ll never know what could have been, but this team had a chance to be very special. I thought the pitching staff was as good as any since I’ve been at Miami. And we were starting to swing the bat better. Certainly you feel for the players, but I think everybody, and I mean everybody in the entire world, understands this is something bigger than baseball and winning a championship.”
The Hurricanes (12-4, 3-0 ACC), who completed less than a third of the 56-game regular season, now have 16 of 32 players who are draft eligible. Several, among them junior first baseman and 2019 ACC home run king Alex Toral, junior pitcher Chris McMahon (3-0, 1.05 ERA) and draft-eligible sophomore pitcher Slade Cecconi (2-1, 3.80) are expected to be drafted in June — that is, if the draft dates don’t change.
The NCAA already announced that it is allowing seniors who participated in 2020 spring sports to have an extra season of eligibility. UM ace Brian Van Belle (2-0, 0.68), outfielder Chad Crosbie and pitcher Tyler Keysor are the team’s seniors, but DiMare said “it’s way, way, way too early’’ to know what will happen.
“Having that opportunity is a good thing,’’ the coach said. “They haven’t explained how it will work as far as roster sizes and scholarships. Maybe they’ll increase the scholarship cap from its current 11.7. But it’s wrong for me to speculate.’’
For now, DiMare, in the second year of a five-year contract, is staying in contact with his players and communicating with recruits solely by phone or text or social media. Off-campus recruiting or in-person evaluations is currently prohibited, per the NCAA. So, DiMare sits at home with his wife Denise and daughters Nicolette, 14, Gianna, 12, Giselle, 10, and 8-year-old Gina, relieved that his family is together and well but not knowing what to expect.
“Every day is changing,’’ he said. “Every hour you’re waiting for something new.
“Life without baseball is strange, and this ending has been surreal, but this is unchartered territory. You have to trust people who have the best interest for you and your family and fellow human beings.’’