High school athletes were never formally told by a representative of the school or league that our seasons were canceled. I can only assume that, as the pandemic raged last spring, thousands of seniors across the state of South Carolina joined me in following local news coverage for a decision from the school board; the only announcement we ever heard was from the governor, who said that all schools were closed for the rest of the year. And how could we complain? People were dying, and the health of the country was at stake — my Tuesday-night game against Waccamaw High School was not of national importance.
The same can be said for spring athletes at the College last year, although they were granted a formal statement. One day, there was a season, and the next, there wasn’t. The abruptness helped some cope. For others, it was the root of the problem: the central mass in a nebula of broken hopes.
I was fortunate enough to spend the summer in South Carolina, where COVID restrictions did not extend to recreational summer baseball. I played in a league with other future college athletes, but that experience only fueled a hunger to play in a real game. There is something to be said for the “boys of summer” style scrimmage, where I showed up 30 minutes before game time with nothing except a bat and a water bottle and just played for the love of the game with people I barely knew.
There is much more to be said, however, for baseball in its most complete sense: a team of brothers who endure the shared toil of brutal academics and varsity athletics on a daily basis, all working through individual self-improvement for the shared goal of team victory. I will never forget the bus rides to high school games or the tangible tension in the air during the final innings. You’re playing for something bigger than yourself.
In our own pursuits, we all strive for personal excellence. I study to get good grades; I work out to be in shape; people use photoshop to make themselves look good. On a team, you are no longer only responsible for yourself. Everyone from the bus driver to your coach to the person hitting after you in the lineup has invested something in you, and your job is to succeed on a personal level, but, more importantly, to contribute to a greater cause. The feeling of doing so is quite literally unmatched.
That feeling was robbed from so many of us in what was supposed to be the best year of high school. But now, as spring season commences, we will bask in it once again. I speak for any baseball players at the College when I say that I can feel the dirt caked on my skin after a slide into second base; I can see a ball falling into the left-center gap for a hit; I can hear the cheers as I step up to the plate in a crunch-time at-bat. We have waited so long for these sensations that define the sport.
When people ask me who I am, the answer comes in some variety of the following: my name, where I go to school, and the fact that I play baseball. For my teammates, and other college athletes across the country, athletics are a central aspect of our identity. That makes it that much sweeter that we traveled to Clinton, N.Y., on Saturday to play Hamilton in what was the first competitive game for some of our guys in nearly two years.
This game felt like a reward. It was the culmination of a year of unfulfilled expectations, widespread confusion, and pure, unadulterated boredom. More than anything, this past year showed us how much we love baseball. A global pandemic was far more than anyone needed to step back and reevaluate their commitment to the sport, and no one would have blamed their neighbor for walking away. And yet, we all stayed.
While baseball is a sport that lends itself to the written word beautifully, no words could express my exuberance while playing. Sports teach us teamwork, motivation, patience, and respect for authority. They simultaneously embody the freedom of youth and the process of maturation. Those feelings are easy to write about, but there is no active sensation when I’m on the field. My mind is not occupied with deadlines, emails, or internship applications. I don’t think of the existential threat of climate change or my tutorial paper due Monday. I feel focused, relaxed, and determined — all at the same time.
I played in my first college game on Saturday, and collected my first college hit. At every milestone, there is the recognition of the hours of work and the sacrifices made. But even if I hadn’t played, or if I hadn’t succeeded, a day spent at the ballpark would have been the best use of my time. If you ask me what my favorite part of the day was, I’ll tell you that it’s a tie between every single second I spent out there. We all need these things, our shelters and havens. When they are taken from us, we feel lost, but, when they return, we understand more fully their importance. For me and my teammates, baseball is that haven. Thanks, and go Ephs.
Kedar Veeraswamy ’24 is from Charleston, S.C.