An Allegany Radio Corporation Sports Column By Mike Burke

For Carter, ACM, a good first step spoiled

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

Allegany College of Maryland head baseball coach Mike Carter admits he went through the same stages of stubbornness when word of the COVID-19 spread became more and more prevalent. He said he didn’t treat it with cynicism, but like so many others, he just didn’t want to let himself believe it.

“When the news comes out, you initially think, ‘It’s an overreaction,’ ” Carter said on The Morning Rush on Thursday. “You hear people say, ‘The flu kills more people than this’ and you keep it there.

“Then you hope it’s an overreaction. Then there is a form of … I don’t know if you would call it denial, but you make a thousand excuses to yourself as to why it should have no effect on what you‘re doing:

“ ‘We’re junior college baseball. Only a handful of fans come to most of our games anyway, so we can’t infect anybody … They shouldn’t cancel our games.’

“But then when they do, you know immediately that it was the right thing to do.”

On Friday, March 13, the NJCAA suspended spring competition until April 3; then on Monday, March 16, canceled the upcoming basketball championships and spring sports for the remainder of the academic year, bringing an official close to Carter’s first season as head coach at his alma mater.

“It’s disappointing, obviously,” Carter said. “The guys are disappointed. This is a real close group. We all came together, really, not knowing each other too well, if at all; but in time, a real brotherhood was developing.

“These guys do everything together. In fact, 18 of the 24 guys got together before they went their separate ways.”

In that his players, in fact, did go many separate ways, Carter has been in the process of staying in touch with them, while at the same time trying to collect uniforms that are scattered all over the place, and determining future plans.

“I’m in the process of contacting them individually,” he said, “because we’ve got so many things going on with all of them. I mean, there are the sophomores who are expecting to go to four-year schools, but we have to find out who’s coming back and who isn’t.

“It’s recruiting season, so I’m contacting high-school seniors and I’m also a professor, so I have online classes to teach.”

The Trojans’ season ended with a 7-7 record after a 1-3 season-opening start in North Carolina. Carter, though, was able to secure six games in Virginia during the built-in two-week layoff that was part of the schedule he had inherited.

“We were on spring break and we had a day off after the Frederick game (March 10), and that’s when all of this stuff happened,” he said. “So the Frederick game was the last time we were all together. Addressing them in person? Never happened. We just didn’t have the opportunity because we didn’t know. Which is tough …

“Casey White, for instance, was with me at Essex and he came here with me to play his sophomore year, so we have a close relationship, obviously. But he went home to (Amorita) Oklahoma. Not even half-way through his sophomore season and I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye. And, I’m not sure I will see him because I don’t know what this is going to bring or what he is going to decide to do.”

Because the spring sports seasons concluded almost before they even began, the athletes on the teams will be granted an extra semester of eligibility by the NJCAA. Thus, in theory, Carter will have all 24 players from this year’s team returning should all 24 choose to return. However, there is another very important factor at play — next year’s incoming freshman class.

“The guys here are my first priority,” Carter said. “We started together and I’ll honor it if they want to come back. But I also have recruits coming in expecting to play.

“All 24 can come back, and why wouldn’t you want to (if in their position)? They were building a chemistry together, a familiarity. But, again, there are high school players I really like and want to come here, and they’ll expect to play. I want to be fair to them.”

And when the call came down that the season was over?

“Initially,” Carter said, “the reaction was bummed. We were starting to do things well and (the players) are extremely excited about the direction we’re going, and when they communicate with each other in their group chats, or what have you, they’re pushing other guys to come back. And I think the sophomores who experienced kind of a tough season last year, are even more excited about where we’re headed here.

“They want to come back and play together and that excites me.”

So, while the first step of the journey in Mike Carter’s head coaching career at the school he loves was smaller than anybody could have imagined — nor would have wished on anybody, much less everybody — it was, in fact, a very positive step. However, Coach Carter also reminds his players, that while the baseball part is very cool and is what brought them here, in the end, it’s not at all why they are here.

“These guys always get their extra (baseball) work in,” Carter said. “I just want them to make sure to stay on top of their academics. We can’t forget the real goal here — to earn the associate degree and go on to a four-year school.”

And, along with being junior college athletes, sometimes comes the belief of being invincible. Carter says he’s quick with the reminder that nobody is invincible when it comes to something as ghastly and as deadly as coronavirus.  

“I told them, ‘Don’t take this lightly. You’ve got to pay attention to what people are talking about.’ ”

Mike Burke writes about sports for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s County Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984. He was the sports editor of the Times-News for nearly 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@alleganyradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT