May 31, 2019 Atlanta - Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall watches from dugout in the 6th inning during the first game of the NCAA regionals at Russ Chandler Stadium in Georgia Tech campus on Friday, May 31, 2019. Georgia Tech won 13-2 over the Florida A&M. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Tech’s Danny Hall trying to navigate in a sea of unknowns

Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall has worn a college baseball uniform every spring since 1974, when he was a freshman at Miami (Ohio). That’s 47 consecutive seasons, including this one, for the 65-year-old Hall.

So for the season to be suspended and apparently on the verge of being canceled due to the spread of COVID-19, it has been a shock to his system.

“I’ve been lost,” Hall said, speaking on a teleconference Monday. “I’ve told people, it just feels like somebody punched you in the gut.”

The uncertainty and schedule disruption that has impacted virtually every community nationwide has dizzied Hall, who is now feeling his own disorientation but also having to figure out how to navigate a team of baseball players whose aspirations for this season and beyond are on a hiatus of indefinite length. He is in the same boat as perhaps every college coach of a spring sport, not certain of when he’ll next see his team or play in a game.

“You’re always planning as a coach, so to not know what you’re planning for just makes it hard,” Hall said.

To wit, second baseman Austin Wilhite. On the basis of strong bullpen performances in the offseason, Hall and pitching coach Danny Borrell decided to use him on the mound for the first time in his college career. In three appearances covering four innings, Wilhite allowed two hits and no runs. For the FSU series, he was to be put in a closer role. Measured on ball-tracking technology that registers data like spin rate, Wilhite’s fastball is elite, even compared with major-league pitchers, Hall said.

But, Wilhite may not have another opportunity to show scouts what he can do against live competition before the June major league draft. The same goes for high-school prospects who have signed with Tech. He mentioned a signee from Connecticut (Jake DeLeo) who had yet to play a high-school game this spring.

“A lot of it is unknown,” Hall said.

Hall surmised that major-league teams, should it even be permissible at that point, will have to conduct private workouts or combine-type tryouts in order to gather information on prospects.

“I’m sure Major League Baseball is going to have to sort out a lot of things, and one of those would be how they’re going to handle the draft,” Hall said.

Hall applauded the NCAA’s decision to extend eligibility for spring-sports athletes, calling it the right thing to do. However, what it means for the management of his roster and scholarship allotment is unclear. He’ll have to step into a situation where draft-eligible players will be deciding whether or not to turn pro at the same time his high-school signees are doing the same thing as well as seniors who could either stay or go.

“That’s going to be somebody way above my pay grade figuring out how we’re going to address it, handle it and, as important, how are they going to pay for all of it,” Hall said. “Like I said, it’s a great gesture, and I think it’s the right thing to do, but how it gets implemented and paid for, that’s going to create some issues.”

His team’s schoolwork is another problem to solve when the semester resumes, March 30 at the earliest. With players potentially taking classes online and possibly doing so away from campus, keeping tabs on assignments and tests becomes more complicated.

“I guess we’ve got to lean on their parents to hold them accountable with their classwork,” he said.

And, like all coaches, he has no idea when his players might actually return, whether it’s for games or even practice to prep them for the draft or summer-league play. There’s no shortage of signs that the spring sports season is a longshot at best. The NCAA has canceled its spring sports championships, and the Big Ten and American Athletic Conference have canceled their spring sports competitions.

The CDC’s recommendation on Sunday that no gatherings of 50 people or more be held for the next eight weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 was only one more step.

It’s remarkable that, just last Thursday, Hall was getting ready for his team to board a bus to travel to Tallahassee, Fla., for a three-game weekend series at Florida State. His team was 11-5 and had won its first ACC series.

Then he got a call from FSU coach Mike Martin Jr., who shared with him that he had heard that the series was off. Not long after, Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury was telling staff at a meeting that games and practices were canceled until March 29.

Just like that, Hall was telling his team to go home. And then, the same day, the NCAA canceled its spring championships, including the College World Series.

“That’s probably something that I regret a little bit, that we kind of left out of there with hope and now, obviously, a lot of things have changed since then, since that first initial meeting with my team,” Hall said.

Hall said there’s “a glimmer of hope” that some part of the season could be saved, but acknowledged the likelihood that there will be no more games.

“I’m sure (the ACC) is going to make the decision that they think is best for everybody based on the information and as much as I’m disappointed and anybody in college baseball’s disappointed, this is much bigger than college baseball,” Hall said. “And we have to be more concerned about people and their lives as opposed to missing a season. It’s unprecedented and unfortunate at the same time.”

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