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The Ultimate Curveball: How COVID-19 Changed Robbie Young’s Baseball Career

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By Brennan Miller │ Utica Blue Sox Media Relations Intern

Robbie Young posted one of the best single-season performances in Utica Blue Sox history in 2019, leading the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League with 56 hits while finishing fourth in the league with a .368 batting average. 

The Louisville native kept his stride during his short-lived senior campaign at Appalachian State, as he started all 17 games for the Mountaineers and totaled 12 RBIs in the process. But this all came to a jarring halt on March 12, when Young, his teammates and student-athletes across the country started seeing some of their games postponed to a later date.

“I can still look down and see my suitcase on the floor of my apartment,” Young said. “We were all packed up to go to Texas State when my coach texted me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve cancelled our flight and don’t really know what’s going on yet. We’ll give you more information in the morning at around 9 a.m.’” 

This is when things took a turn for the worst.

“In a span of about 48 hours it went from, ‘Well we’re not flying there now, but we will in a couple of days,’ to, ‘Well now our season is completely done,’” Young said. 

Initially, on March 11, the NCAA announced that all winter championships would be played without spectators in attendance, referring to the upcoming Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments and the Division 1 Indoor Track and Field Championships. That announcement was then followed with another less than 24 hours later, revealing the cancellation of all remaining winter championships and all upcoming spring seasons. 

For athletes entering their fourth, and final year of eligibility, there was no word on their status as collegiate participants. It took another day for the NCAA to decide their fate, but for most the news was a best-case scenario; the NCAA would provide eligibility relief for Division 1 spring season athletes. 

“When it happened, we, as seniors, thought it was all done. We did not think that the NCAA would grant us another year, and that just kind of comes naturally,” Young said. “There was a lot of emotion that came with everything, almost sort of a grieving process for us all because we were all cut short. There was no, ‘We left it all on the field,’ there was none of that. It all kind of felt, I don’t know the exact word for it, it just felt unfinished.” 

A feeling of being unfinished was a sentiment that could be felt across college athletics, with many athletes posting on social media about their belief that their college career was unceremoniously ended. 

“I remember reading about a pitcher from Georgia who was a senior who was a top round pick, and he wrote a letter to the NCAA saying that he wanted to finish his time at Georgia,” Young said. “I remember reading a letter from a TCU pitcher who had his senior year cut short, and he was writing to the NCAA as well to try and sway them into giving [the Seniors] an extra year. Reading all that really puts into perspective that you want [to come back] as well, but it also bonds everyone as Seniors because you have the same feeling that they do.” 

After the NCAA’s announcement that they would give an additional year of eligibility, another round of questions came to the forefront for athletes. Seniors, like Young, had to decide whether or not they were going to exercise the extra year in the first place or graduate from their institutions at the end of this semester. 

“I think initially it was very overwhelming. You have a lot of different situations that could play out. In your head this could happen and that could happen, but at the end of the day, what made me really come back was I thought to myself, ‘If I was working next year and maybe App State would go and win a conference tournament — Would I be happy not being on that team knowing that I actually had the opportunity to go back and I just decided not to?’ Putting it into that perspective, it was a very easy choice to go back,” Young said.

While going through this strange, but necessary decision-making process, Young reached out to former Utica Blue Sox teammate Franklin Jennings, who now serves as an assistant coach at Central Connecticut. Young asked Jennings if he would have come back given the unprecedented circumstances, and of course he said yes.

“I’ve texted a couple of my buddies, and they all kind of said the same thing,” Young said. “So being able to have a support system that you can reach out to from other teams – whether that be from junior college teams or friends that you’ve had on summer ball teams, to even the school that I’m at now — We all banded together and just asked questions to figure out a way to come back next year and help us find a way to solve those tough and sometimes unsolvable questions right now.” 

Even if players were able to make the decision to stay, that means they have to start thinking about financials and housing for the upcoming year as well.

“I didn’t even sign my lease for my apartment, so now I have to go back and find another apartment complex because the apartment complex I live in right now has a waitlist of about 80 people,” Young said. “I’m going to have to move; I’m going to have to look for another apartment; I’m going to have to figure out academically what I need to do, so there’s a lot of stuff, a lot of questions that are still yet to be answered.” 

Academics was another area of focus for these student athletes, with most of them in the middle of or reaching the end of their degree paths at the end of the spring semester. 

“I was actually set to graduate this spring, and so I still will get my degree, assuming that I pass all my classes this semester,” the fifth-year redshirt senior said. “But now that I have another year coming back, I don’t know what decision personally I’m going to make on whether I’m going to pursue a certificate of Masters, pursue an actual Masters or just take some classes to give me enough credits to be a student athlete.” 

Regardless of the individual decisions that all of these players make, the general consensus is that they are happy to have another year to play the games that they love. Young finished with one final statement on behalf of the senior class of 2020.

“If anything, I want to say thank you to the NCAA, because there are a lot of seniors all across the country that wish they could shake some commissioner’s hand and really thank them,” Young said. “A lot of us as seniors were lost. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know how to respond when everything was taken away, but thankfully everything was handled in a really gracious manner and gave us another year back. And so, from me, personally, I just want to say thank you for another chance to play.”

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