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Penn State Baseball: One of the Last to Play, Cooper Reflects on Season's End

by on March 17, 2020 2:40 PM

Penn State baseball coach Rob Cooper already knew this was the last game of the season. He had been informed 20 or so minutes before the Nittany Lions took the field that everything had been canceled.

It was a shock, but also something he could see coming. Cooper isn't stupid; he can read the news and had done exactly that. So as the wave of league cancellations began in the wake of the spreading COVID-19, he mentally prepared himself for what was increasingly inevitable. By the time the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments were canceled, the writing was clear as day on the wall.

His season was coming to an end too.

But what of the players? Gathered together they ran out on to the field on March 12 at Miami (Ohio) unaware of the world rapidly changing around them. Penn State baseball was one of the last teams to play any kind of NCAA sport this season, and they had no idea, and for nine innings Cooper kept it that way, letting them enjoy one last swing, one last throw and hoping nobody in the crowd would break the news for him.

"After the game," Cooper said on the phone Tuesday, "I brought them up and basically told them hey here's the deal, and this is not a fun thing for me to tell you guys, but as of right now that the season is, is looking like it's going to be canceled."

For Penn State baseball the ensuing shock was the same as it was for every team still playing across the country. There is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. The NCAA has ruled that all spring athletes will be granted an extra year of eligibility following the season's mass cancellation, but Cooper doesn't know yet who will take up the chance to return. There are three seniors to consider, recruits, scholarships, scheduling, practices, workouts and so much more suddenly flipped on its head.

Cooper's answer is the same as everyone else's.

"I don't have an answer to that because I just don't know right now."

Nobody does. 

But everyone does know that in sports — no matter how small they might be in the grand scheme of a pandemic sweeping across the world — having your season end at the drop of a hat is a painful process. You don't see it coming, you can't anticipate it, suddenly it just happens.

So you have to find a way to heal from that. Penn State has offered student athletes consoling sessions, and head coaches are taking part in conference calls on a regular basis to assess where things are at. There is also a communal grieving of sorts, not only the sadness over the season that wasn't for you, but the season that nearly was for a colleague playing just down the road.

"We've had quite a few coaches conference calls and been able to ask questions and talk to each other about what we're doing," Cooper said. "We're continuing with that on a daily basis. I've reached out to a bunch of coaches to see how they're doing and then you have fall coaches that reach out and been like 'Hang in there, let me know what I can do.'

"Personally you get to know these coaches really, really well. For example Pat Chambers, has been an unbelievable friend to me and to see what he has gone through the last three years and stayed the hurts for me to see them not get into the NCAA Tournament. Sitting in his office three years ago saying that this is what we've got to do and we've got to stay with it."

So for Cooper and his team the sadness is the same as everyone else's. In a sense they were the last to know, which meant they were the last to have their hearts ripped out.

There is always a silver lining though. Cooper, like so many of his fellow coaches, is spending more time at home with the family, something particularly special as Cooper's wife enjoys life in a post-cancer world, a battle that made this team so special to his family, and the end of a season all that much harder. Cooper needed baseball, and he had it, but then it was gone. Fortunately some day it will be back.

It is just sports though and as coaches get suddenly familiar with time on their hands, they're all hearing a similar message.

"My wife says maybe I can get a hobby to do outside," Cooper says with a laugh, maybe the first one in days.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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