This was supposed to be the week the Salamanca baseball team showed how far it has come.
The Warriors entered the spring with hope following a three-win 2019 campaign. And coach Michael “Smitty” Smith couldn’t have asked for much better weather, with sun in the forecast all week. But instead of opening the season, the Salamanca baseball team, like much of the country, is sitting indoors waiting for a chance to play if schools reopen later this spring.
“Of course any other time, we’d have 10 feet of snow on the ground; now the weather’s gorgeous and we could have been outside all week,” Smith said. “We would have started on Thursday against Ellicottville and our Outer Banks (North Carolina) trip was scheduled for two weeks from Saturday. So we’re very disappointed along with the fact that I think we would have had a much-improved team. Our youngsters are growing up and our senior leadership was in place; we were looking at a .500 record, that’s a big thing for us. Even with the league that we’re in, we were looking at making noise in the sectionals when we got to that point.”
WITH SCHOOLS amid a third week of closures due to the coronavirus, spring sports teams can’t practice or gather in groups of any kind. Smith, the Mayor of Salamanca, said he can only give the players instruction on how to safely work out from home.
“I send the kids email, things they can do at home, drills they can do at home, encourage them to go out and play catch,” he said. “They can go one-on-one, their dad can go pitch to them or someone, you just can’t put a group together. So they’ve gone and hit a little bit, they’re playing catch, they’re staying active.”
Smith expressed disappointment that even if schools can reopen in late April, it would only allow a short season of league games before the sectional playoffs. And he’s not optimistic the season could be resumed after the federal government’s social distancing guidelines were extended through April.
“We’ve been working since October,” he said. “We had been down at the ACC (Allegany Community Center) working with the kids. We had a great slate together, and it’s sad that we lost that now. All the work that we did and now we’ve been sitting around for three weeks. Playing catch is one thing and maybe a little batting practice with your dad and maybe one other kid is another thing. But it’s not coaching baseball.”
SOME OF Smith’s players live nearby. Just looking across his backyard or his neighborhood, he sees activities that kids can do. And while classwork continues for students at home, they should continue to keep their grades up.
“Just stay safe, stay active,” Smith said of his advice to the young athletes. “Go rake your neighbor’s yard. There’s not a lot — I raked my entire yard and cleaned the garage three times, probably stripped every piece of furniture and re-stained it.
“But for the kids, I live right across the street from the Hoag boys, Harley and Hayden, and I watched them play wiffle ball in the backyard the other day. My other neighbor, Jerry, made the team this year as a freshman and I see him out hitting the ball in the yard. Just stay active, guys. That’s all you can do. Throw the ball up in the air and catch it. Throw on the roof and let it fall off. Before you devolve into just eating and laying around, for God’s sakes do your homework. If we do come out of this, let’s not come out of it ineligible.”
For as long as the nationwide COVID-19 crisis lasts, Smith hopes the Warriors can stay positive and safe.
“It’s tough every day to keep going along,” he acknowledged. “For the kids, be safe. It is what it is, at the bottom line it’s only baseball.”
(Salamanca Press sports editor and Times Herald sports writer Sam Wilson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)