Barring any spring cancellations, one Alabama A&M baseball player from Howard County is anxious to get back on the field after being robbed of his 2020 season.
An Eastern product and graduate, Logan “Otis” Smith is set to finish his undergrad in the spring, but first he wants to soak up what college ball he has left. As spring sports hang in limbo going into 2021, Smith said the feel around the program is optimistic, as the team returned to campus this past weekend after being away for 10 months.
Since Smith has racked up enough credits to graduate early, this will be his final run before moving onto law school. He said he will cherish the last go around with his teammates.
“Definitely makes me want to soak it in more, seeing places like Auburn and Missouri and the big schools that we get to go and play every year. Makes you want to soak it in a little bit more,” Smith said. “It kind of feels like maybe I took it for granted those first two years.”
Those first two years
2019, though it felt like decades ago, was a normal sports year. Teams could travel and enjoy all the elements of their sports without a cloud of cancellations constantly looming. As a freshman, Smith was able to dip his toes in and travel with the team. He struck out four batters in early 2020 before the season came to a halt.
In 2020, the team got to play 15 games. The team got off the bus from Samford University, and the next morning they were getting ready to have a run-through practice before a big conference series against Jackson State when they got the news – COVID would affect the season.
“And they were like, ‘All right, you’re going home for two weeks.’ And then two weeks just turned into 10 months, and I haven’t even gone back. So it’s been kind of crazy,” Smith said.
Smith spoke on the shock of everything converging at once last year, as he said his team’s coaching staff was fired at the same time the entire sports world came crashing down in March.
“In the moment, it’s just kind of like, ‘Oh, dang.’ It felt like, ‘OK, the Jackson State game got rained out’ is kind of how it felt like. And then a week went by, and you’re like, ‘Why aren’t we playing?’” Smith said. “At the same time that this was all going on, our whole coaching staff got fired. And so we didn’t have a coaching staff. We didn’t know if we were going to have a season. Everything just kind of came crashing down all within the same 48-hour stretch.”
He said it took about a month for the reality of the situation to really sink in. Warm weather and baseball season come around in April every year, and to not be playing ball felt surreal, and not in a good way.
Looking to 2021
There is no schedule yet for this year, as the coaches and administrators don’t really know what to do, he said. There’s a growing expectation that the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) will move to a conference-only schedule, though nothing has been announced officially.
If the conference-only model holds, then Smith said the season would consist of around 10 weekends, playing each team in the conference four times. But the situation continues to be fluid.
Upon returning to campus, each player must present a negative test and will continue to be tested throughout the season. The only people on campus currently are athletes, he said, and all classes are online. Smith said the in-season sports, like basketball, test 24 hours prior to competitions and then another 24 hours thereafter. He expects the same format for the baseball team.
There’s more confidence in the ability to perform outside sports, according to the CDC. Baseball innately is socially distanced, so pulling off a 2021 season doesn’t seem entirely impossible.
For college student-athletes though, optimism and preparation are the only two options. The team will continue to roll with the punches. Smith said, at this point, after 10 months off, the team isn’t picky; they just want to play.
“Really, it’s the only way that people can get through it, athletes, coaches, everybody because, at the end, that’s what we do. As a college athlete, that’s really your job. You go to class. You go to practice. You play a game,” Smith said. “So I mean, two-thirds of our day is devoted to the game, and so we have no other option than to be optimistic about what could or could not come out of 2021. I would say there’s more optimism than pessimism going into it, for sure.”
In short, Smith and his team will take what they can get and be ready when the time comes.
“It’s been 10 months since we’ve been on a field playing, so it’s just kind of like, ‘Get us on the field.’ I mean, any way that we can do it. We don’t care how many games. We just want to play a game at this point. One game, and then just take it one game at a time … At this point, if we can salvage a conference-only schedule, that’s good enough for us,” he said. “Really it’s just taking it one day at a time and hoping today’s not the last day. You never know.”