Ocean City High School pitcher Jake McKenna and St. Augustine Prep catcher Brian Furey are seniors whose teams are Cape-Atlantic League rivals, yet they have similar hopes for the high school baseball season.
Both want it to be played, even if it means extending the season into summertime.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs most high school sports in the state, suspended all spring sports after Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all schools closed for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most sports were supposed to have begun the regular season.
“I’ve been playing with a lot of these kids, on my team and at Baseball Performance Center (a training facility in Pleasantville),” said Furey, 18, of Strathmere.
“I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked. It would really be a shame if we can’t show it on the field, especially the seniors”
Athletes around the state feel the same sense of disappointment.
Freehold Borough senior center fielder Sean Wodell started a Change.org petition Wednesday that urges the NJSIAA to consider allowing the high school baseball season to be played through the summer.
The petition had more than 10,600 signatures Tuesday morning. The goal is 15,000.
Neither McKenna nor Furey had signed it, but they supported the concept.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said McKenna, 17, of Ocean City. “We put a few really good practices in, we were really fired up, and then it was just taken away from us out of nowhere.
“It’s really tough. We worked so hard to get here. But we just still have to stay positive.”
McKenna, who is committed to NCAA Division I St. Joseph’s University, junior Gannon Brady and sophomore Tommy Finnegan are among the pitchers who highlight a stacked Red Raiders rotation.
Ocean City coach Andrew Bristol has a group text chat with his players to make sure they remain active and positive during the pandemic.
The Red Raiders finished 19-5 in 2019.
“I’ll take anything,” Bristol said about the petition.
“I’m always there for these kids. I’ll coach them anytime and anywhere. If they want to play in the summer, I’ll gladly rearrange my schedule to make that happen.”
Bristol, however, also expressed some concern about extending the season into the summer.
“It’ll be difficult with travel and showcase teams,” he said. “These travel teams are elite and can drive them to the next level, and I always want to see our kids play at the next level.
“I don’t know if it’s even a possibility to do both.”
McKenna plays for the New Jersey Baseball Academy during summers.
“It might work,” the senior said about the petition. “But it’ll be really hard with summer ball, traveling and tournaments. People already signed up and paid for that. It’ll be tough, but anything is possible.”
Egg Harbor Township coach Bryan Carmichael said his team is using Google Classroom and social media to stay connected, sending out daily challenges for the players to stay in shape.
Carmichael wants the seniors to have a season.
“I think any opportunity to play baseball, especially for the seniors, is great. It’ll be sad if the seniors can’t play.” Carmichael said of the petition.
“I think it sheds a light on the situation and how important it is to these baseball players to have a season. This is something to take into consideration.”
Seniors’ last chance
Furey has received an appointment to continue his baseball and academic careers at the U.S. Naval Academy.
But even if the season is extended into the summer, he might not be able to participate. Furey leaves June 25 for Plebe Summer — a required six-week training program for the incoming freshman class at the academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Last season, St. Augustine captured the South Jersey Non-Public A title. The Hermits lost 4-3 to Delbarton in the state final.
St. Augustine features a talented roster, with other senior Division I commits such as Alex Hunt (Iona) and Kenny Levari (Old Dominion).
“I was prepared and trained really hard in the offseason,” Furey said. “Every since that last out to Delbarton, we all wanted the season to start so we could get back there.
“We were looking forward to it. And we are like a group of best friends. Even if I can’t play (in the summer), I want the others seniors to.”
Bristol said his team is most concerned that there are so few answers right now. Despite any anxiety, he said, the baseball community must “take it one day at a time.”
“We are not going to feel sorry for ourselves,” he said. “We are just a bunch of guys who love baseball, and we know it’s going to come back eventually. And when it does we will be ready to play.”