BEHIND THE DISH: Living this New Reality

BEHIND THE DISH: Living this New Reality

Senior catcher and public relations major Sonny Ulliana is spending the 2020 spring semester interning in Rhody's athletic media relations office. As part of his internship, he will be blogging for GoRhody.com.

Hey guys, I'm back. Boy, a lot of stuff has happened since my last blog. It took me a long time to write this one because I needed a solid amount of time to think about what just happened. This is going to be a long one. I want everyone reading to know what the past week has been like. Hopefully this will give you guys some insight, help me cope with what is going on, and maybe provide my fellow student-athletes with a little bit of comfort knowing that we're all in this together.

So, it goes without saying at this point that the Coronavirus has taken the whole world by storm within the past couple of weeks. What started as a virus overseas has grown into a pandemic that has turned world upside down. As a result, the sports world has shut down. It started with Division III college sports, and quickly spread through all areas of sports. From all levels of the NCAA and professional sports leagues, seasons have been canceled or suspended. Everything falling like dominos. 

The Day that Changed Everything

Thursday, March 12, 2020. We were on our way to play a four-game set at the University of Delaware. The night before, it was reported that a professor on the UDel campus tested positive for the Coronavirus.

Going into that trip, we were unaware of what was to come. In an effort to limit the spread of the virus, many schools - Rhody and Delaware included - had decided to play games in front of no fans for at least a few weeks. The Ivy League took a harder stance and canceled their spring sports seasons altogether 

It was a weird feeling getting on the bus, knowing that at any moment we could have to turn around and go home and not play. In a time like this, you do your best to keep things normal and stay positive by thinking everything will go according to plan. Only, that's not what happened.

Suddenly, we pulled the bus over into an empty movie theater parking lot. Coach C stood up and told us that the University of Delaware had a case of Coronavirus, and that they were in the middle of a meeting to determine how to proceed. The bus got silent while we waited for the news on whether or not we were going to play.

Then the news came.

Coach C told us that Delaware has suspended their season, and like that, we were going home. At the time, we had no idea what this meant for our own season. 

Time continued to pass as we headed home. Eventually there was another announcement from Coach.

"Guys, we just got word that our season has been suspended until April 3rd."

Everyone's heart sank. We had no idea what was going to happen and the anticipation of what was to come was almost unbearable. It showed in the batting practice we had when we got back to URI. You could just feel it in the air. I could sense from everybody that we all thought this was going to be our last time on the field together.

It's an unexplainable feeling. You look at your teammates differently. You observe more. You want to run around and stay forever.

Then we brought it in around Coach once batting practice was over. My heart fell into my stomach. This was it, I knew it. "He's going to say our season is over" was the only thought in my mind while he was talking to us. If you held a gun to my head and asked me to repeat anything he said, I couldn't. My mind was preparing for it to all be over.

To my surprise though, it wasn't over. We left that day believing that we had a game in three weeks. 

Once we left the field however, things got worse. I was at lunch with Josh Brodeur and Max Mircovich, when the dominos continued to fall.

It was announced by the NCAA that all championship events to take place in the coming months - March Madness, the College World Series, etc. - were going to be canceled.

Well, that quickly changed our lunch conversation. Mind you, our season was still set to resume in three weeks when we heard this, so we were sitting there wondering "If they take away playing for a national championship, what are we going to play for?"

Lunch turned rather grim as we finished up and headed back home. 

Oddly enough, it was a beautiful early Thursday evening. Josh, myself and a couple of other teammates thought it would be a nice night to catch a Narragansett sunset. On the way to the beach is when we found out that the Atlantic 10 canceled all spring sports for this season.

It still didn't hit me. The whole time at the beach, it didn't hit me yet. Car ride home, still not there. Nope, that whole night, not a single feeling of anything.

It wasn't until we, as a team, got together at Nick Robinson's house, just to be around one another. Josh, Austin White, and myself were among the last to get there. Everyone was already trying to forget the news by socializing, talking, sharing stories. I walked in, still numb to the news.

I remember being greeted by my teammates. Hugs, tears, thank yous, and everything you could think of was exchanged between us. It was then that it hit me for the first time - I've played my last baseball game for URI. It was all over.

It was the weirdest feeling of my life. 

It felt like how it feels when the season is actually over, only we still had two more months to hangout before the school year ended. It felt as though we were mourning the death of a family member that we all shared. For those of you who have been to a repass dinner, it felt like that. 

The next morning was worse. 

We get a text from Coach to meet in the barn at 12:30 pm. My heart dropped, everything was becoming real. I arrived, walked in and saw my teammates sitting there waiting to hear the news we all know already.

Coach C stood in front of us. He addressed the team to the best of his ability, given that he didn't know much more about what was going on than we all did. We had all the facts that we could possibly have, but it wasn't enough.

We sat there in silence. It could have been five minutes, it could have been five hours. I have no idea how long it was because the time stood still. In the background of the silence, I could hear the very faint noise of crying. It was surreal.

Eventually we broke it down. "Family on three. 1,2,3 FAMILY!"

Normally this signifies the end, but this time no one left. We all sat back down, paralyzed. Nobody could move, nobody wanted to leave.

We eventually decided, as a team, that we would go bowling. It was better than sitting in silence. 

Living This New Reality

I want to tell you guys how this affects us, the players. I know that I can't speak for everyone, but I did want to tell you about how I feel.

Honestly, this is the weirdest thing I have ever experienced. It's an end to the season in a way that you could never expect. It's a change in your life that happens in an instant. It's way deeper than the sport itself. This sudden change in my life is something that affects me more than just on the field. 

Let's just start with all the free time. For those who don't know, we currently don't attend school. Our classes are online for the rest of the semester. We have no baseball. We have nothing to do, and nowhere to be. What do you do with all that free time?

Student-athletes know what I am talking about. For years and years, it has always been school, homework, practice, sleep. Every day from as far back as you can remember has been this way. Your sport is your life, and your life is your sport. Only now, you have nothing. No school, no homework, no sport.

For the first time ever, we have the time to do anything. Having that freedom is fun, until it gets old. For me, sports have always taught me structure. Kept me on time for things, kept my days planned out. Always gave me something to do. Now I don't know what to do. Maybe it's time for a new hobby.

This was a giant wake up call for me. I learned that you can't take anything for granted. I always thought that was such a cheesy term. Until now, when something I love has been taken from me. It's crazy to think about. One day something could be there and then it's gone the next day. This is a lesson that will be carried with me for life.

Another thing this has taught me is how not ready I am for college to end. No plan set in place, no job, nothing. It is really something scary when you come face to face with that. You don't know how unprepared you are for something until you are faced with it.

It's weird, as I'm writing about this I feel like I could compare this situation to when the grim reaper in the cartoons shows the person all their mistakes, and the future. I feel like this showed me how I need to fix a lot of things and be better prepared for the future.

Personally, I don't know how things are going to go. It has been said we will all be granted another year of eligibility. I would love to come back to URI for another year. I would like to see how the NCAA makes this possible. There are a lot of question marks with everything right now, and it is so hard to explain, which is why I have avoided this conversation. I wanted to sit on this, and try to process my own thoughts, before I wrote this blog. I'm pretty sure I've said everything I've wanted to say about what is going on. But before I go, I also want to say something to the other student-athletes. 

To my teammates, the senior student-athletes, and every other athlete who was affected by this: Guys, we're in this together. The only good thing about this is that there are hundreds of thousands of us going through the same exact thing right now. And while we all react in different ways to the situation, the good news is that there most likely is someone who is feeling the same things as you. We have to rise up together, and use our athletic community to support one another and be stronger. 

To the seniors: some of you may never lace up the cleats or sneakers ever again in your life. Some of you may go on to play professional sports. Whatever it may be, this is something that you will always have with you. So much hard work, effort and time has gone into your respective athletic careers to get you to where you are right now. To have possibly your last season ever get cut short due to a virus is something unexplainable. Not only the season, but graduation, senior week, your last months ever in college – just gone. This is going to be one of the hardest and weirdest times of our lives. We need to be strong and find comfort in our teammates while they are still around. We will all come out on the other side of this, and be better for it. We've been through too much to go out like this. 

Love you guys!

-Sonny