After Towson baseball’s 5-2 win at George Washington March 10, the Tigers were about to go through the typical postgame routine of getting on the team bus, finding a place to eat and heading back to campus.
But like every college team around the country, Towson was about to go through the start of a week that wasn’t typical at all. On March 11, the NCAA announced that its annual men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments would be played without fans due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The next day, NCAA president Mark Emmert canceled the tournaments as well as all spring sports championships. Conferences and individual schools also took initiative, cancelling seasons and offseason activities.
For Towson, that storm started on the team bus after the March 10 game. The Tigers were supposed to host Binghamton for a four-game series starting March 13, then head to Hawaii the next week for their spring break trip.
On the team bus, interim head coach Miles Miller told the team it looked like the Hawaii trip wasn’t going to happen. While eating at Chipotle, the team learned the trip was canceled. By the end of the week, the CAA canceled the season for all spring sports.
“Once we saw sports were cancelling around the world we knew it was a matter of time for this season,” redshirt sophomore outfielder Javon Fields said. “Once we saw Hawaii was canceled we figured there was no going back from that.”
Towson was 7-8 when the season was suspended, looking like it was about to take a step forward from a dismal 2019, when the Tigers went 14-39 and didn’t win their seventh game until contest No. 34.
Towson scored 5.47 runs per game through 15 games this year, about two runs better than through the same point last year (3.40). Redshirt sophomore outfielder Matt Arceo (.395/.490/.442), freshman catcher Burke Camper (.314/.393/.373) and preseason All-CAA selection Fields (.293/.400/.310) led the way in 2020.
The pitching improved as well, with the team ERA dropping from 6.19 through 15 games last year to 4.29 in 2020. Sophomore Cam Clark had eight scoreless appearances to anchor the bullpen, and sophomore Nick Ramanjulu (3.22 ERA) was off to an impressive start as the team’s Saturday starter.
But it wasn’t just that COVID-19 cut short a potential bounce-back year. It was that it cut short a year in which Towson had already persevered through difficult circumstances.
When workouts began in the fall, head coach Matt Tyner told the team that his wife, Laura, was diagnosed with cancer. Tyner missed days throughout the fall to be with his wife, and according to Miller, for a time it looked like she’d beat it. But as the season got closer, her health took a turn for the worst. She passed away Feb. 10, four days before the Tigers were scheduled to open the season against Old Dominion. That same day, the team announced Tyner would be on temporary leave and Miller would be the interim head coach.
Miller, who was slated to enter his third year as Towson’s pitching coach alongside Tyner, had spent the previous decade working his way up in the baseball coaching world. It wasn’t the way he wanted to get his first head coach opportunity, but he knew how he wanted to lead the team. The season would be dedicated to Tyner and his wife, as well as making sure the current team could make the most of the situation.
“I wanted to honor Matt and Laura and take care of our guys,” Miller said. “I had a responsibility to the Tyners to make sure it went well and did the job every day, and I had a responsibility to the players since they only got one chance to play college baseball and it was important to them to have the best season they could.”
Though Towson started 2-7 and got swept by Old Dominion and then-No. 7 Miami, Miller thought he saw progress against the Hurricanes. The Tigers then won a midweek game against UMBC, took three out of four from Lafayette before beating George Washington in their final game.
“We thought we were figuring out how to win and be in a winning and successful program,” Miller said. “Guys were making pitches and plays and starting to believe in themselves. It felt like guys were excited to come to the ballpark every day and I was so proud of them to be in the position they’re in.”
According to Fields, the team is already motivated to show this year wasn’t a fluke. He said this year was the most fun he’s had at Towson and is eager to see if the Tigers can continue to grow as a program. Some seniors could return as well after the NCAA Division I Council announced all spring sport athletes would be given an extra year of eligibility, though others may decide to move on and start life after baseball.
Whatever happens, the players and coaches know they’ve had a unique experience that they can carry to more than just baseball.
“The biggest thing I can take away is control what you can control,” Fields said. “Everyone has goals and dreams, like you want to hit this many and steal bags and win a CAA championship but none of that is in your control. You can only control [the] attitude and effort and energy you bring.”
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Towson Athletics