In the Ivy League, Snowy Practices for an Uncertain Baseball Season

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While major professional and college teams have returned, playing around and through outbreaks and stoppages, the Ivy League has not. Presidents of the league’s member universities announced in July that no sports would be played until Jan. 1, and in November the pause was extended until March 1. They thus became the first conference to cancel its football and basketball seasons.

In doing so, the Ivy League’s presidents have held onto a core principle: that athletes are treated essentially the same as students who do not play sports.

Thus, at Columbia, where most students have not returned to its Manhattan campus, and at Cornell, which is in its initial phase of welcoming students back this semester, the baseball teams have not practiced. At Dartmouth, where the campus will be open only to freshmen and seniors in the spring quarter that begins next month, the baseball team would be almost all freshman and seniors. Princeton’s roster is down to 18 players, with four juniors taking a gap year so they could return next season.

The teams that are practicing are following their universities’ protocols.

At Princeton, that means pitchers throwing bullpen sessions while wearing masks, and players in groups of five that are often determined not by position but who their roommates are. At Pennsylvania, players have largely had to brave the elements since their usual indoor winter facility — an inflatable dome — wasn’t put up because of ventilation concerns.

These were hardly the circumstances John Yurkow, the coach at Penn, imagined nearly a year ago.

The Quakers were on their usual warm-weather trip to open the season, and Yurkow had been throwing batting practice before his team’s game against Florida Atlantic. As he came off the field, with the first pitch about an hour away, an assistant coach approached Yurkow and showed him a message on his cellphone: The season had been canceled.

“We had to scramble to get a travel party of about 40 on another flight,” said Yurkow, who added that his assistant had gotten the messages about 15 minutes earlier but wanted him to enjoy throwing one last batting practice session. “It was almost a surreal feeling — like, what just happened? The kids were angry at first — you go through those stages, but you think, ‘OK, we’ll be back in the fall and have a normal season.’”

Little, though, is normal nearly 12 months later. And the prospects for an abbreviated season appear dim.

“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” Yurkow said.

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