Warriors stunned by COVID-19 shutdown
March 26, 2020 by Joshua Iversen, Arizona State University
Joshua Iversen is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism student assigned to cover Westwood High School for AZPreps365.com.
MESA, Ariz. – This isn’t how Westwood’s baseball season was supposed to go.
The Warriors were as optimistic as ever. After a 6-1-1 start to the year (3-1 in conference play), spirits were flying high. With a talented, deep and experienced roster, the team had its sights set on the 6A championship.
But then COVID-19 swept across the nation like a wildfire, essentially suspending all sports until further notice. Now, the Warriors are in limbo.
“It was devastating,” head coach JR Langston said. “It’s an uncommon, unfamiliar thing. I’m kind of in disbelief.”
Langston now finds himself with plenty of spare time on his hands. He’s spent some of it keeping himself busy with housework, helping his wife in the yard and cleaning. He also made a few trips to the Westwood locker room to pick things up for his players.
According to Langston, the team isn’t allowed on campus, and as long as classes are suspended they aren’t going to meet or practice. As of now, Arizona public schools are closed through April 10. But Langston isn’t optimistic about the school – or its baseball season – returning this year.
“The people I’ve talked to, what I’m hearing is nobody really thinks we’re going to go back to school,” he said. “I’m not really hopeful.”
The situation has already had an immediate impact on Westwood’s players. For example, senior second baseman Macs Carrillo is committed to play at Gateway Community College in Phoenix next year. But due to recruiting restrictions in place as a result of the shutdown, he has yet to officially sign.
Senior shortstop Crew Parke is a unique case. He was hit by a pitch in the hand during Westwood’s March 9 loss to Perry and broke his thumb. Recovery is expected to take four to six weeks, and now he just hopes he’ll have baseball to return to.
“Typically, I’d be in the batting cage every day,” he said. “But I can’t even swing a bat.”
Parke has already signed to play with Chandler-Gilbert Community College next year, alongside teammate Erik Ortiz. He knows they could face added competition for playing time if current CGCC players are granted an extra year of eligibility.
But Parke isn’t worried about that; he’s excited for the challenge. Instead, he’s concerned about some of his teammates who won’t have that opportunity at all.
“A couple of our teammates are a little lost,” he said. “I think they were depending on this last senior season, having a very good season and someone would have picked them up. There’s some guys that were pretty good on our team that might not end up anywhere. It’s rough, I feel for them.”
The players aren’t the only ones affected. Pitching coach Jim Urquidez has been in baseball his whole life. He played semi-pro ball until he was 36 and transitioned into coaching when his son Jason turned 9. He’s been coaching pitching at various levels ever since, including many high schools and colleges in the Phoenix area.
Now 80 and in his sixth year at Westwood, he said he’s never seen anything like this outbreak and the resulting shutdown.
“I understand the reasons for it, I don’t really have a problem with it,” he said. “As old as I am, I gotta take care of myself, because it can affect older people. But I’m in pretty good health so I’m not totally worried about it, just gotta be careful and use my hand sanitizer and watch where I go, watch when I go.”
For the Urquidez family, the situation hits a little bit harder. Jason, an Arizona State University alumnus and former Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand, has spent parts of the last five seasons pitching for the Mexican League Toros de Tijuana. But the recent partial closure of the Mexican border leaves Jason’s future uncertain.
“I don’t know if he’ll be able to come back and forth like he used to,” his father said, “so we’ll see how that goes.”
Despite the shutdown, the Warriors coaches and players are still keeping in touch, trying to keep spirits high. In the event the season does return, Urquidez has his pitchers on a throwing program in the hopes that they could be ready to go quickly. Langston has had brief discussions with other coaches and staff about the potential of a regional round-robin tournament in late April or May.
But until they get the green light from the state government and school district, it’s a waiting game. Everyone remains hopeful baseball will return, but they also recognize the impact COVID-19 is having on the world outside of the game.
“After all, this is baseball,” Langston said. “We need to make sure that we stay safe and keep our families safe. We can get lost in all of this, and the importance of baseball, but really it’s the importance of staying healthy and staying alive.”
Still, every day brings its difficulties. Some of the players – and even the coaches – have had a hard time keeping their heads up during these bleak times. But for Parke, knowing that there will be baseball on the other side of this is all the comfort he needs.
“Trying to get through this, I don’t ever look at the negative side,” he said. “There will be an end and we will have a season. It might not be my high school season, but I will play college baseball.”