Former Hamilton standout on end to senior baseball season at Miami: ‘Like a part of me has been taken away’

The last time Landon Stephens experienced this much of a state of denial, it was when his fraternal grandfather and maternal grandmother passed away almost simultaneously in December 2018.

That’s how the Miami senior baseball infielder was feeling on Friday, one day after the Mid-American Conference and National Collegiate Athletic Association abruptly cancelled the spring sports seasons as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“I explained to someone yesterday that, when my grandpa passed away, it was sudden and I had no time to react,” Stephens, a Hamilton High School graduate first-team all-conference pick last season, said. “My initial response was positive. I wanted to be there for my family. My grandpa was a big part of my baseball life. It was a process for me. It wasn’t until we started playing in February that I started to experience it. With this, I wanted to be there for my teammates, but it’s like a part of me has been taken away.”

The RedHawks were told before their Thursday home against Penn State that the season might be suspended until the end of March. It wasn’t until after beating the Nittany Lions, 5-1, that they listened to the public address announcer read the statement from Dr. Jon Steinbrecher, the Mid-American Conference commissioner, announcing the cancellation of the winter sports tournaments and all spring sports.

“We were actually the last college game of the season,” Stephens said. “We normally never play on Thursdays. That was my first Thursday game in four years at Miami. Right before batting practice, they told us we were going to be cancelled until the end of March, so we knew going into the game that we were going to have 12 games taken away from us in our senior year. We went into the game knowing you can’t take stuff for granted. After the game, the (public address) announcer started reading the statement. I think he was reading from a tweet. As he was reading it off, I was sitting there listening. Our coach was trying to get them to stop saying it. I dropped to my knees and started crying.

“It’s like it was in slow motion. I was trying to slow everything down – trying to understand.”

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The cancellations are comprehensive. Neither the Miami baseball or softball teams had started conference play. The softball team was 12-8 and the baseball team 8-7. The women’s track team was preparing for the NCAA Indoor Championships, which were scheduled to start on Friday. The women’s tennis team was 4-7. The men’s golf team was off until March 29.

Miami’s spring football practices were cancelled and recruiting was limited to written and electric communication.

The men’s basketball team was preparing to play a second-round MAC Tournament game as the 12th seed against fourth-seeded Northern Illinois after upsetting fifth-seeded Buffalo at Buffalo on Monday. The women’s basketball season was over after losing to Buffalo in the MAC Tournament first round.

The ice hockey team was preparing to play a Minnesota Duluth team ranked in the top five of the two major polls in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Tournament. Several RedHawk swimmers finished on Thursday the first day of the three-day College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America National Invitational Championship.

Like many, Stephens understands the need for precautions, but wonders why the spring sports couldn’t be suspended long enough to possibly allow the scourge to pass instead of being cancelled.

“It’s important to have a bigger perspective and understand the why behind it,” he said. “I want to put others before myself. Looking at the big picture, I understand why. People’s health is more important than baseball games. It’s just that there’s a difference between using the word ‘cancelled’ and ‘suspended indefinitely.’ Cancelled means over.”

Stephens wasn’t sure what the decision meant for Miami athletes access to training facilities and their efforts to stay in shape and sharp. He wasn’t picked last June in the Major League Baseball draft, but he said he was approached by several Major League Baseball teams to leave school and sign as a free agent. Now he’s wondering about his baseball future.

He also was pondering the possibility of returning for a fifth season. He had seen social media references to the possibility of the NCAA offering another year of eligibility to spring sports seniors.

“My first priority is to play professionally,” he said. “I want to play until somebody tells me I can’t. We’ll see how the draft plays out. Being a finance major, I understand how the financials play out. In terms of scholarships, how big of a roster can they maintain? Can they maintain a 60-man roster? Playing until I can’t will be my mindset in terms of deciding whether to go back to college. Choosing to come back and pursue my master’s could be part of it.

“It’s a matter of me choosing that positive mindset.”