Whiteford’s Thomas Eitniear and SMCC’s Wyatt O’Brien were on the Toledo baseball team, and Dundee’s McKenna Schmidt and Hannah Tackett were on the softball team this spring.
It was March 13, and Thomas Eitniear and the rest of the University of Toledo baseball team were in Georgia preparing for a preseason series against Kennesaw State.
At this point the news was released. There would be no game. There would be no series.
In fact, there would be no season.
“It was kind of dark and dejected,” Eitniear recalled. “After we heard the news nobody said a word until we got all the way back to the hotel. We were sitting by the pool, all as a team, and we talked about how messed it was …
“Everyone was kind of dejected and calm and all.”
The University of Toledo was one of the first colleges in the country to postpone the spring semester and cancel related sports as the country began to understand the full implications of the coronavirus pandemic. All classes ended up only resuming online, but for hundreds of student athletes, their season was over before it even started.
“The health and safety of our student athletes, coaches and staff has been and remains the top priority of the Athletics Department at the University of Toledo,” said Michael O’Brien, vice president and sports director of UT, in a statement on the school’s athletics page. “During these challenging times, we will continue to follow instructions and guidelines that we receive from federal, state, universities and conferences. We will also do our best to keep our supporters updated with any information about our sports programs.”
Eitniear was looking forward to his second campaign. The Whiteford grad played in 51 games with 49 starts as a freshman, hitting 0.206 while hitting seven multi-hit games.
“We were all excited,” he said. “… We were excited to be playing the Mid-American Conference game. We were preparing to just get things going.
“Life is coming at you fast.”
Eitniear’s teammate and product mate Wyatt O’Brien of Monroe County, who was moving from northern Illinois to Toledo before the start of the season, did not travel with the team to Georgia as he was planning to do a Redshirt year while falling from knee surgery recovered. Likewise, Bedford graduate David Jeffers was home when the news got there, as he is currently working to leave Toledo.
But both were in contact with their friends on the team as they tried to come to terms with the unprecedented events.
“It’s honestly just a shock to me,” said O’Brien, a graduate of St. Mary Catholic Central. “We should have our home opener (the Tuesday after you return) from the spring break … It would have been my first Toledo baseball game and I was interested and excited to see what the season would be like.”
Dundee alumni Hannah Tackett and McKenna Schmidt are newcomers to Toledo’s softball team. They were in Florida to play in the preseason when news broke that their first season as Rockets had been canceled.
“It didn’t even cross my mind that any of this was going to happen,” Tackett said as the team prepared to fly home. “It’s just so crazy, it doesn’t even feel real that the whole season is over.”
“I definitely think we will have a good year,” added Schmidt. “We had a few rocky moments because it was preseason. We were basically just starting to play together on an actual field. We found a groove down here, then suddenly everything is done.”
While nothing can bring back the season that could have been, the NCAA has announced that it will offer spring athletes an extra year of eligibility to make up for the year they lost. It’s welcome news for seniors who had no idea if they would ever be in the field again.
It’s also welcome news for the underclassmen who were looking forward to playing one final season with these teammates.
“Everyone gets their year back,” Eitniear said. “It’s a good thing that came out of it.”