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Coronavirus Shutdowns Deal High School Seniors A Harsh Reality



Since his sons were just 3 and 4 years old, Tommy Davis was looking forward to this moment.

This year his older son Chase was entering his senior baseball season at Franklin High in Elk Grove, Calif. For the first time, that meant Chase and his younger brother Jordan would play alongside each other on the same varsity team: the elder Davis in center field, the younger in right.

“Well it was a collection of ideas, thoughts, emotions,” Tommy said, thinking back before the season began. “(Chase) put the work in. He did what he was supposed to do with what he was in control of. He was dedicated to what he was doing. He was actually living out his dream. We figured—like any of these draft parents—we figured he would chase it, go do what he does and everything would turn out well in June.

“(My) mindset was of the normal parent at the time . . . We had no idea things would turn out the way they have. We had no idea the world would be affected and people would be losing their lives.”

The novel coronavirus allowed Chase and Jordan just three games together before their season ended. The Elk Grove unified school district was one of the first in the country to cancel classes and athletic events because of to the rising pandemic, first shutting things down from March 7-13.

A week later, things only got worse. Sacramento County issued a formal order for residents to remain in their homes and leave only for essential chores.

On the opposite side of the country in New York City, things were similar. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tightened restrictions on March 20 as COVID-19 cases in the state eclipsed 7,000. New Yorkers were instructed to stay indoors and non-essential businesses mandated to keep workers home.

For righthander Alex Santos at Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx, his life has become eerily similar to Chase’s—and every other high school senior planning to graduate this year.

“Making memories for your senior year. . . It’s everything,” said Santos’ father Alex Santos Sr. “You’re going to have kids, grandkids. You explain to them everything that you did for your senior year. That’s the bad part that is getting taken away from him—just kind of finishing the year out with his friends, guys he’s played with, three or four years already in high school.

“It’s unfortunate. There’s nothing we can do. We just have to be realistic and go day by day.”

Like high school seniors around the country, Santos and Davis will miss out on moments that those who have already graduated might take for granted. Big things, like proms and graduations, won’t take place. Small ones, like random, meaningless conversations in the hallways or the cafeteria with childhood friends—those won’t happen either.

“Going out to hang out with my friends is kind of at a little pause,” Santos said. “You don’t want to take the risk to go out there. And it doesn’t even really matter to be honest, all the restaurants are closed, the movie theaters are closed. You stay home.”

For Davis, there were a slew of senior activities that were planned for late April and May before his graduation on May 31. An all-day trip to Disneyland, where the park shuts down and only has high school students for the day. A trip to a popular Northern California amusement park Golfland-Sunsplash. An all-night bowling trip after graduation, starting around midnight and ending hours later at seven or eight in the morning, with pins falling and eyelids likely doing the same.

“Those are some of the bigger ones we had planned,” Chase said, “but just in general, man, we had so many activities. But now it’s really not going to happen.”

Both the Davis and Santos families understand that those losses are small compared to some of the difficulties that others around the country and world are faced with. But thinking of the small ways families are impacted around the country is not the same as diminishing larger concerns. It’s just another example of how this far-reaching virus was affecting us all.

“We are concerned about the lives of people and the deaths for sure,” Tommy Davis said. “People’s lives are not going to be the same. Life as we knew it three weeks ago is no longer.”

While Davis and Santos can both commiserate with all high school seniors in knowing their final prep season has been taken away—both are also in a position to look ahead.

This year's draft will likely be vastly different than a typical draft, with a short amateur season to evaluate for many players and little or none for others.

Teams have been watching many of the high-level players for some time now, and that includes both Santos and Davis, who are first- or second-round talents. Santos is ranked No. 27 on the most recent BA draft rankings and the most prominent player in New York, while Davis is ranked No. 57 with a loud package of tools that includes impressive raw power.

Both have done enough over the summer and fall to give teams confidence in selecting them this June.

“Our process will be fine with those high school kids in my opinion,” said one American League scouting director, “and I’m speaking for all 30 teams here, but primarily us. Our process will be fine.”

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The challenge now is to find ways to stay in shape without games taking place and with increased restrictions on where you’re allowed to go. Santos is set up nicely. His father runs a facility along with his partner, Melvin Perez, called Citius Prep.

Santos has been able to continue throwing his routine bullpen sessions, because the facility controls the volume of players inside at any given time. After focusing on adding muscle mass and strength over the offseason, as well as refining his changeup, Santos is able to continue his arm care routine and bullpen work despite high school baseball being shut down.

Additionally, the facility is equipped with Rapsodo, which will allow Santos the option to pass along key data that will be even more useful to scouting departments, who have only seen limited outings this year.

“My workout plans and everything hasn’t really changed,” Santos said. “I just go in there and get my work in, work out like four times a week and get all my bullpens in. I’ll just keep consistently doing my bullpens, getting all the data from my live bullpens and just keeping it, just in case.”

Davis doesn’t have that luxury. Now that additional restrictions have been put in place, he won’t be able to work with his hitting coach every day. He’ll have to settle for weights at his uncle’s house, situps and pushups inside, and potentially a tee and net setup inside his garage to get swings in. He wants to incorporate anything that can help him keep his body in the shape he wants it in.

For a gym rat like Davis, it’s frustrating but something he knows is out of his control.

“I understand that everything in life happens for a reason,” he said. “And those balls I was hitting each and every single day, it was to honestly prepare for the season. But now we’re most likely not going to have one.

“It’s not something for me to be really mad about, because it’s not really in my control. It would be a completely different story if it was something I did. But it’s not. I’m still working hard. That’s not going to change—that’s never going to change.”

COVID-19 has created an unexpected speed bump for both Davis and Santos. Because of their talent, though, this won’t be the end of their baseball careers. Both are determined to get to the other side, and have commitments to Maryland (Santos) and Arizona (Davis) if the draft doesn’t go the way they expect.

But for many other high school seniors in the country, this is it.

“Chase is known,” Tommy said. “I’m not even concerned about him. He has made major impacts for the decision-makers for the draft. So I’m not worried about him. What kind of makes me sad sometimes, kind of brings me close to tears is the fact that there are countless kids—at the junior college level, at the university level, who couldn’t wait (for this season) and had done everything that they possibly could to prove themselves worthy of a higher draft pick. Or kids who were doing the same thing and working hard for scholarships . . .

“So our hearts go out to them. And that’s not including what we talked about earlier with the deaths and the sickness and the financial situations and all these other things. You know, this thing is bigger than us. We realize that. Baseball is going to be baseball and (Chase is) going to be a professional baseball player for a lot of years—we’re not worried about that. Life is life. And what we’re trying to do is get through that, keep our faith. Keep encouraged and try not to necessarily panic at everything we see, but at the same time understand that we have to keep each other safe.”

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