The 2019-2020 season began as a fresh start for the PSJA Memorial baseball team.

A new head coach to lead the program, new-look uniforms, batting cages and brand new turf on PSJA Memorial High School’s home field, replacing the grass of the past.

First-year head coach Don Smith was able to conduct a full offseason with his team during the fall semester, preparing for the late winter, early spring when the official start of high school baseball rolled around.

Smith, who was an assistant baseball coach and football offensive coordinator at Mercedes prior to taking over the same positions at PSJA Memorial, started the rebuilding process.

“One of the very first things that I wanted to bring in was the parents, the community. They came in to see our field, step on our field. When we had our parent meeting that first day of practice, they were just in awe,” Smith said. “They were excited, the parents were so supportive. That excitement trickled down to our players, showing up to practice with a lot of energy and excitement.”

That energy and excitement translated onto the baseball diamond as the Wolverines not only played against solid competition early during the season, they played tough. One-run losses to playoff teams like Weslaco High, Harlingen South and Edcouch-Elsa let Smith know his group was on the right track.

“We followed the motto ‘trust the process,’ trust each other, believe in the system, and most importantly, have fun. We were building something, I felt the kids were trusting in the process. The kids were starting to open their eyes and opening their hearts to loving the game,” Smith said.

But that rebuilding blueprint was put on hold due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which caused the University Interscholastic League to suspend athletic activities until May 4, at the earliest.

The Wolverines were in the middle of hosting the PSJA ISD Mike Rodriguez Tournament during the weekend of March 12-14. After the opening day of the tournament that Thursday, PSJA ISD made the decision to cancel the remainder of the event; the UIL’s announcement of a suspension followed shortly afterward.

“I felt at the time we had to shut down, it devastated the kids. They started getting the news that there may not even be a season. They were distraught, reaching out for answers, especially our seniors. We have three or four seniors looking to play at the next level. I told them to believe in what we’re doing is right and safe for you guys with the coronavirus going on,” Smith said.

Baseball, a hands-on sport in every sense, has turned to virtual coaching. Smith keeps in contact with his guys on Google Classroom and in group chats, giving them workouts to complete while at home.

One Wolverines senior, Jared Sandoval, displayed his love for the game by decorating the front door of his house with baseball and football memorabilia including medals, jerseys and garters.

But for now, the PSJA Memorial baseball team awaits to learn the fate of its 2019-2020 season. Smith said the message to his team is to keep the faith.

“Keep strong and keep believing. They’re all staying in high spirits, they just want to hear the next day that we’re going to get back to practice, get back to games,” he said.

bramos@themonitor.com