“Heartbroken” ironically seems to be the best word to describe the general feeling amongst the senior baseball and softball players at Castleton University.
With the LEC abruptly cancelling competition for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Spartan seniors Sara Baker, Calli Van Gorden, Jake Spielberg and Davis Mikell are forced to say goodbye to the games that have brought them great joy and memories throughout their respective childhoods.
The baseball team had the news broken to them in a hotel lobby in Newport News, Virginia following a 7-4 win over Apprentice School last Thursday.
“The first thought I had when George Buteau, our graduate assistant and assistant coach, told us that we were done for the year was everything went numb,” said Davis Mikell, a 2020 D3baseball.com Second-Team preseason All-American. “I was in total shock.”
With a four-year record of 88 wins and 47 losses including two NAC (North Atlantic Conference) championships in 2017 and 2018, the 2020 senior class was led by Mikell’s career stat line of a .370 batting average with 173 hits, 118 runs, 116 RBIs, 98 walks, 35 doubles, 21 home runs, 20 steals and five triples. From the mound, Mikell has produced a 7-6 record with nine saves, four complete games and 127 strikeouts in both starting and relief pitching roles.
Mikell, a business management major from Williston, Vermont, was Castleton Baseball’s 2017 and 2019 MVP, and was anticipating ending his historic career in the 343 green on a high note.
“It’ll be a hard transition because for the first time in a long time, there will be no next season,” Mikell said. “Yes, the NCAA has granted spring student athletes with another year of eligibility, but at some point, I have to join the real world and start a life. I think the toughest part about everything that has gone on was that it was ripped away from us so quickly.”
A role player for his four years as a Spartan was first baseman Jake Spielberg. Spielberg, a native of Oceanside, New York, was crushed by the news of the conclusion of one of his first true loves.
“Baseball has been my best friend ever since I was born pretty much. My older brother played it, and I took after him. My parents always took me to go watch his games and I immediately fell in love with the game,” Spielberg said. “I’ve been playing the sport ever since I was about 4 years old and never stopped.”
Spielberg looks at the lessons and memories he’s experienced in “America’s pastime” as valuable and influential,
“Baseball is a game that teaches you a lot inside, and outside the lines. Baseball teaches you if you’re down, don’t stay down, things will get better and you must get back up and stay positive. Also, baseball is rewarding when it comes to friends and teammates. I have met a lot of great people throughout all of the teams I have been on and I will never take that for granted.”
Spielberg is a physical education major with a minor in school health, and will be returning to Castleton in the fall of 2020 to fulfill his student-teaching responsibilities before heading home to Long Island to teach.
Softball’s third baseman, Sara Baker was anticipating her return to the hot corner following a year-long hiatus to focus on academics and her post-graduation career as a nurse.
“My emotions were just initially in shock. I couldn’t really comprehend the news or the fact that I am never going to be playing softball again,” Baker said. “I grew up as a softball player and spent every weekend of every summer playing softball all over this country, and it’s a huge part of who I am.”
Baker, a nursing major from Schuylerville, New York, was in the middle of preparation for her future career as a RN, with what would have been an experience at Porter Hospital in Middlebury, Vermont. Due to Castleton University transitioning to online classes and avoiding in-person contact, Baker is unable to participate in this opportunity.
“At this point, I am still unsure if I will even get that opportunity. I am hopeful that I will get to experience at least a little bit of that, but right now, I am going to focus on my classes and studying to pass my NCLEX (licensure for practice),” Baker said. “The next step for me after finishing my last two classes is starting to apply for jobs, which is also very exciting for me.”
Baker ranks in the top-10 in multiple single-season categories for Castleton Softball, including doubles, home runs and RBIs. In her career, Baker has amassed 75 hits, 51, RBIs, 47 runs, 19 doubles, 18 walks and six home runs.
Calli Van Gorden from Stillwater, New Jersey, is the only other senior on the softball team, and is regarded as the leader of the team by many. The game has been an integral part of her life thus far, leaving a big hole to fill.
“I think I’m most disappointed about not being able to do my thing,” said Van Gorden, the shortstop transfer from Concord University in West Virginia. “You could probably ask anyone, me without softball really isn’t me. You do the same thing and get to play the greatest game for 20 years and having it taken from you is unreal.”
Van Gorden is majoring in exercise science with a minor in statistics at Castleton, but has her eyes on her next courageous step: flight school.
“I’m commissioning as a second lieutenant aviation and medical services officer in the United States Army, so I’ve been slotted for flight school to pilot Blackhawks and Lakotas, as well as slotted for BOLC (Basic Officer Leadership Course),” Van Gorden said with extreme joy.
Van Gorden completes her athletic career with NAC First-Team All-Conference and All-Tournament honors in 2018 and LEC (Little East Conference) Player of the Week recognition in March of 2019. She recorded a .345 average with 69 hits, 46 runs, 34 RBIs, 18 doubles, six triples and three home runs.
“It really isn’t a game to you after a while, it’s a lifestyle, and to have that change can be detrimental to any athlete’s mental health,” said Van Gorden about her fellow senior spring sport athletes losing out on their final seasons. “I do encourage people to talk about it and feel the feelings. The magnitude of what we are dealing with is crazy, but like coach (Eric) Ramey says, some things are just bigger than the game, and we just have to keep that in mind.”
Ramey responded via email to how the coronavirus has impacted him personally and as a college coach.
“The reality of what might happen hit me on Wednesday when the NBA announced they were shutting down until June. At that point, I just wanted to keep my team as informed as possible, while trying to hold out hope that we’d still have a season,” Ramey said. “We had been off since returning from Myrtle Beach, so we were trying to get back into a routine when we practiced Wednesday. We had a good practice, but you could sense everyone’s wheels were spinning.”
Ramey’s message to his girls after the season officially ended was rather clear: set your priorities straight and go home.
“Our message to all the players was to get their academics in order, especially our younger players that are new to college academics. We reminded them to take every essential home with them,” Ramey stated. “We had to switch gears pretty quickly, and they needed to put their student hat on. We are hoping that we will be able to return to campus, so softball can again become a piece of us before the year wraps up.”
Davis Mikell took a very mature and professional approach to the unfortunate situation, just as if he were stepping into the batter’s box.
“This pandemic that is going on right now is way bigger than Castleton, bigger than Vermont, bigger than professional sports,” Mikell said. “So, if all of that is shutting down, one can understand the move behind cancelling spring sports as a whole. It’s a tough but necessary pill to swallow.”