While the coronavirus pandemic receives global attention, the story of its effect on athletes nearing the end of their careers, such as Dirtbags redshirt senior outfielder Calvin Estrada and senior first baseman Jacob Hughey, have largely been untold.
“We have a lot of tough decisions to make,” Hughey said.
Hughey and Estrada have both served as locker-room leaders throughout their Long Beach State tenure but had their final season cut short by the NCAA and Big West’s response to the pandemic.
The NCAA has promised an eligibility extension to all Division 1 college athletes, but the decision to wait almost another whole calendar year to continue playing collegiate baseball may not be the best choice for either prospect. Both Hughey and Estrada will graduate academically this spring.
“We would have to go for a masters program [to maintain NCAA eligibility],” Hughey said. “Or the NCAA would have to say ‘OK, these guys that graduated last year, we’re gonna allow them to play without taking classes.”
As of now, the NCAA has made no such announcement.
Draft implications also factor in the decision about whether to return to the Dirtbags.
With a 6-foot-1-inch, 225lb-frame, a naturally powerful swing and one of the best outfield arms in the Big West, Estrada has the talent to get drafted into the MLB but had an underwhelming 2019 season. He turned up the heat in 2020, batting .290 with a team-leading six doubles, but with the season suddenly cut short, his improvements may receive less attention from MLB teams.
“There’s definitely a bunch of decisions that my family and I have to make regarding school and the draft,” Estrada said. “It’s definitely a possibility for me to come back, but anything could change at this point.”
Hughey’s situation is the opposite of Estrada’s. He led the team in 2019 batting .324 with 26 RBIs, but hit under .100 in 2020.
With the 2020 season suddenly over, Hughey lost his chance to prove to scouts that his 2019 performance was not a fluke by bouncing back in the stretch run of this season.
“We didn’t get a chance to show our full potential,” Hughey said.
Aside from school and sports, the sudden cancellation of the season brings mental struggles for the veterans as well.
“We feel so bored,” Hughey added. “We just don’t know what to do,”
Estrada and Hughey are struggling with the impact of having their identity as Division 1 baseball players stripped away from them.
Estrada’s defensive position in the outfield commands raw strength, so he is attempting to continue his workout regimen in the absence of his normal baseball routine.
“I’ve been running, trying to stay in shape,” Estrada said. “That’s pretty much all you can do.”
But the players can only work out so much, and boredom is affecting both of them. Estrada has been playing “Call of Duty,” to fill the void for the sport he has devoted his time to for most of his life.
Hughey also has struggled to fill his time in a world without college baseball. He went fishing with teammate redshirt junior RHP Matt Fields to try to clear his mind, something which has been difficult recently.
“I’m just trying to stay busy and not let myself be staring at the wall,” Hughey said.
Estrada, Hughey and the rest of the Dirtbags are mired in a world of uncertainty and a sense of emptiness, something that simple activities like enjoying the bond with teammates helps alleviate.
However, the Dirtbags seniors might be hanging out with teammates for the last time, unsure if they’ll be back next year to suit up next to them.
“Everybody just left,” Estrada said. “Everybody went home.”