Green Eggs and Hamlin: Don’t feel for me. Feel for them.

Updated: March 20, 2020

Well, this whole “not have a game stuff” certainly puts it all into perspective, doesn’t it?

Too much perspective, if you ask me.

(Ed. note: in the interest of fairness, that quote is from “This is Spinal Tap.” I don’t have an ear for most modern pop culture references, and Spinal Tap is old but timeless)

The most amazing thing regarding the coronavirus pandemic is how quickly the spring sports landscape in Hillsborough, and everywhere else, went from rich to barren. On March 10, the Orange baseball team beat East Chapel Hill. The following day, they were taking batting practice preparing for the second game of the series on Friday.

No one had any idea that, in all likelihood, it would be their final practice together. Or that the North Carolina High School Athletic Association would suspend the spring sports season less than 24 hours later.

When you’re a senior in high school, things are never as final as they seem. Many of the students who will graduate in the Smith Center in June (if they’re allowed to) will eventually live in Orange County or somewhere near it. Many of them will continue to carry friendships with people they’ll turn the tassels with, hopefully closer than five feet apart.

Yet the Class of 2020 will hold a unique place in history, but locally and abroad. Especially those that play spring sports.

Hopefully all of them live a long, rich life. And when they get to my age, they can look back and talk about their incomplete senior year. Every other athlete in the history of Orange and Cedar Ridge had the chance to succeed or do otherwise, based on their own abilities.

With each passing day, it feels like the Class of 2020 won’t be able to even say that. Their chance was taken away by an invisible enemy that has shut down everyday life like nothing we’ve seen before it. And hopefully never will again.

Last Saturday night, I received a DM from a friend who graduated with me from Orange in 1991. She asked if I was doing OK. Like many freelancers, I depend on games to make ends meet and the media paradigm isn’t as steady as it once was. I didn’t have a good answer for her because, after 30 years of covering sports, this is all so new to me.

As I’ve written before, high school sports has usually carried on through even the worst disasters, locally and nationally. Three days after 9/11, I was doing play-by-play for Northern Durham at J.F. Webb in Oxford. It may have been the most numb atmosphere for a game I’ve ever seen (especially since Northern won 67-0), but they still played. Well, at least Northern did.

The last thing anyone should do is feel bad for me.

But here’s who I do feel bad for:

Braden Thompson and Braxton Mergenthal: They’re senior lacrosse players at Cedar Ridge. When Thompson was a freshman, the Red Wolves defeated Chapel Hill 11-8 to win the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship. They became the first lacrosse team from Hillsborough to play for a state championship in lacrosse. Mergenthal was a defenseman who helped the Red Wolves shut out Roxboro Community School 16-0 in the season opener. It appeared Cedar Ridge was set to battle Orange for the Conference 9 Championship.

Wyatt Jones, Noah Davis and the rest of the seniors on the Orange lacrosse team: Orange tied the best start in school history last Friday at 6-0. Orange coach Chandler Zirkle approached the game with a sense of finality, which appears to be prescient. Jones is the first lacrosse player from Orange to commit to a Division I school. Hopefully next spring, Mercer won’t have its season interrupted like the rest of the spring sports teams, high school and college, did this year.

Cameron Hartley, Chris Pearce, Grant Fox and Fransisco Martinez: The Cedar Ridge baseball team is a young one, but Coach Bryson Massey got a win over The Burlington School on March 6. It wasn’t easy. It was a blustery night and Martinez got some big outs while wind gusts of 25-miles-per-hour swirled around him. I hope Martinez, Hartley, Fox and Pearce all get a chance to play again.

Joey Berini: Somehow, it would be prophetic if Joey Berini’s last game at Orange is the East Chapel Hill one from March 10. That would mean that Berini hit a grand slam in his last official at-bat. (He drew a walk in his final plate appearance in the sixth inning, but that doesn’t count as an at-bat.) Joey has started at Orange for four years at shortstop. I’ve interviewed him about eight times and he’s never cracked a smile once. He also isn’t known for long answers. Our last discussion was one minute and 37 seconds, mainly comprised of me filling up time with run-on sentences. Joey was always high on production even when he was low on words. Hopefully East Carolina beat writers will enjoy his production as much as Orange fans have.

Dayne Watkins: In Orange’s first game of the year, Dayne injured his hamstring running out a ground ball against Western Alamance. He was set to play again last week against East Chapel Hill, which never happened. Dayne also kindly asked me for a video interview despite not playing the past three games. Dayne, we’ll do that soon. What else am I going to do, watch March Madness?

Emma Roby: Taking the place of a three-year starter is not easy. Emma replaced Kymberlie Thacker as catcher for Cedar Ridge’s softball team and was off to a solid start. Thacker had a .370 career batting average with seven home runs and 57 RBIs. Roby went 2-for-4 in her first game against Cardinal Gibbons, an 11-7 Cedar Ridge win.

Cailyn Thornton: A starter for Cedar Ridge in right field, she opened the year 6-for-12 with five RBIs. Also made the state playoffs as a volleyball player last fall. She deserved a chance to win another Big 8 Conference Championship in softball.

Alyssa and Rachel Serre: Two more Cedar Ridge softball seniors who finally had a chance to start together for the first time at the varsity level.

Grace Andrews: As a freshman, she started at 2nd base for Orange’s 3A state championship team. Maybe Grace doesn’t need anyone weeping for her, after all. But she did deserve a chance to finish her career with a chance to win a conference title, one that Orange tied Cedar Ridge for last year. She already had two.

Maddy Bartlett and Rachel Tilley: Orange’s softball team was already dealt a tough hand with season-ending injuries to three infielders before practice started. Yet Bartlett and Tilley fought through all that to propel Orange past East Chapel Hill 10-8 on March 10, despite trailing 7-1. I know Maddy’s cousins, Mia and Montana Davidson, were proud in Starkville, MS.

And the list goes on and on. There are women’s soccer players. Men’s tennis players. Track & field athletes. All of whom are sidelined by something they can’t even envision.

Two weeks ago, I was out in the freezing cold at Cedar Ridge Softball Field to do play-by-play for Cedar Ridge vs. West Johnston. It was 49 degrees at first pitch and it only grew worse with 25-mile-per-hour winds. It was as if I had never left Appalachian State.

In the midst of all this, I though to myself “This is a weird way to make a living.”

Now, as I finish writing this in 70-degree temperatures on a calm night at the American Tobacco Campus, I can honestly say I can’t wait to feel that weird again.

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