McNary seniors may never see the diamond again

Alex Tavera celebrates a walkoff single last season against Sprague (File).

For many prep athletes, senior year is the highlight of their high school sports career.  

Typically, senior athletes have the opportunity to be celebrated with their friends and family on senior night and get the chance to play their favorite sport for one last year.

Sadly, the spread of the COVID-19 virus is bringing senior seasons all over the country to an abrupt end.

While the OSAA hasn’t canceled the spring season just yet, all practices and games have been suspended until at least April 28.

If the season does indeed get canceled, all five seniors on the McNary baseball team — Jamison Martin, Ethan Patterson, Danny Okada, Alex Tavera and Alex Simpson — would see their prep careers come to a conclusion without a final sendoff. 

 “I feel extremely bad for our senior class. There has been so much that is unknown through this whole process. I was hoping that we would have some kind of season, but those hopes are slowly diminishing,” McNary head coach Larry Keeker said. “I’m sure disappointed, but it’s out of our control.”

For Okada and Patterson, the 2020 season was supposed to be about proving themselves at the varsity level. Both players split time between JV and varsity last spring and were coming off of successful summer league seasons. Patterson even hit a pair of homers during the summer and was looking forward to bringing that power to the Celtics this season.

“This has all been pretty shocking. I have been playing the game my whole life, and then it was just taken away instantly,” Patterson said. “I was really looking forward to being a leader on this team.”

Okada has been involved with the McNary music program since he was a freshman and commits a lot of hours to playing with the Celtic band, but he described how much he would miss not having a senior baseball season. 

“I was really looking forward to having a bigger role with the varsity team. But I was also really excited for things like senior night and just being with my teammates,” Okada said. “Baseball has always been a stable thing in my life. It’s really weird to have all this free time right now.”

On April 15, it is expected the OSAA Executive Board will have a decision as to whether or not there will be a spring sports season. Even if the season is shortened, it would mean the world to players like Patterson and Okada to have any kind of season at all. 

“It would be amazing if we just had some kind of season. Even if it was really short or if it went into June or July, I would just love to see a glimpse so that I could savor it and appreciate it,” Okada said.

Patterson added: “It would be a great thing to remember if we were to have a senior season. Parents would be there. We would have a senior night. I can’t even put into words what baseball means to me and I want to end my time as a high school baseball player in the right way.”

Simpson and Tavera both played varsity baseball last season and were expected to be key contributors on the 2020 team. However, the connection that these two share goes beyond just being teammates. 

Simpson lost his father as a 10-year old. Days after his dad’s funeral, Simpson hit his first ever home run for his McNary JBO team, a moment that he considers as his top baseball memory.

“It was a rough time, but I had my mom, my teammates and my coaches to help get me through it. And I had baseball. Baseball has been the sport I always stuck with,” Simpson said. 

For Tavera, baseball took on a whole new meaning when his father Pancho, who was a long-time youth baseball coach in the Salem-Keizer area, passed away in 2015. 

“Baseball was one of the bonds that I had with my dad. I kept on playing for him. I want to make him proud,” Tavera said. “Baseball has always helped me through it all, that’s why I want to prove that I can play in college.”

Even though his baseball career might continue into next season, Tavera doesn’t want his final year of high school baseball to end like this. 

“It really sucks right now. It seemed like it was going to be a really fun year with all the young players and some of the new guys on our coaching staff,” Tavera said. “Senior night is what every senior athlete looks forward to for their entire career, and right now, it looks like we won’t be able to have one.”

Simpson, on the other hand, plans to enter the National Guard after high school, and is hoping that he will have another opportunity to put on a Celtics jersey one last time.

“We had new jerseys and I just got $250 cleats for the season. I don’t want that to be for nothing. It just doesn’t feel right for baseball to end this way,” Simpson said. “It’s just crazy. We went from starting the season in a week to not playing at all. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.”

Before the suspension, Keeker was able to encourage his squad for the future. 

“I told the team that this is a minor sacrifice considering what is going on in the country right now. With that being said, it doesn’t make it any easier,” Keeker said. “These kids still have a lot of things to look forward to after graduation. This will just be one of many life lessons they will go through.”