Not getting to play their final season of high school baseball has been something very tough for seniors.
On April 17, 2020, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) cancelled all spring sports after Texas Governor Greg Abbott mandated that all schools remain closed through the rest of the 2019-2020 school year due to risks of COVID-19. This announcement left many Texas high school baseball teams with countless "what ifs," as they could only imagine what the rest of their season would have been like. One team in particular that stands out as a group of guys who had high hopes for this season is Strake Jesuit.
Seven seniors and many underclassmen with lots of experience, the Crusaders had a smooth groove heading into district play back in March. From the players, it seemed like this would be the season where all the puzzle pieces had fit together, so that they could make a run for State. Every senior on the team had some varsity experience from the previous season. When the team received word of their season's end in a Zoom call, disappointment scattered around, as they would not get the chance to achieve their goals.
Despite all of the hype around this year's team, it was not their talent and goals that the Crusaders were most concerned about losing. Many of the seniors were just disappointed in not getting to play with each other again. The realization that such a close bond on this team would be broken apart when the seniors head their separate ways became very evident.
Head Coach Raul Garcia-Rameau stated "Yes, there is talent, but this group really liked being around each other and showed a lot of passion for the game of baseball, as they came everyday ready, whether it was in the fall, running, practice, or games." One of Jesuit's aces, Drew Leach, mentioned in a Zoom interview with Vype U Ambassador Robert Gonsoulin, "It wasn't really our talent that brought us together. We're all super good friends. I think that's why we kind of 'glued the team together,' as coach put it."
In the interview, Leach reflects on his baseball career at Strake Jesuit and talks about how much he would have liked to play his last season of high school ball with his friends, despite moving on to the next level to play at his dream school, Baylor. "It's like playing with your best friends. It's missing if you don't do it," he said when asked about getting to play one more time in a Jesuit uniform.
The full interview can be viewed here.
Leach will not be the only stand-out athlete departing from this team at the end of the school year. Senior shortstop Dylan Campbell, who was also a phenom at carrying the football for Strake Jesuit, will be heading to Austin to play baseball for the University of Texas. Left-handed pitcher and outfielder Ryan Garcia will also be playing baseball at the collegiate level after committing to St. Edward's University in April. And infielder and pitcher Conner Young will be playing football for Rhodes College.
The Class of 2020 will leave a lasting imprint on Strake Jesuit's baseball program. Coach Garcia-Rameau talked about how this group of players affected him as a coach, saying "As I know now that the season is over and reflect back, this group of seniors made a huge impact on this program, so as a coach, that's what I've got to remember these guys for….These guys will not be forgotten as we move forward."
Aside from losing the opportunity to coach this year's team, Garcia-Rameau is grateful for the careful measures that the UIL has taken during this time. "The decision to cancel the season was a tough one, and the UIL held on to that as long as they could, and we appreciate that."
Some underclass players even added a few words to commemorate the senior class and this team as a whole.
2021 RHP Caleb Garcia-Rameau: "I really appreciated the seniors leading and showing what a team should be like and bringing all of us together."
2021 SS/2B Andy Leon: "This year's team was something special. As a group, we had so much fun, and it was all led by our seniors. I've never laughed so much on a baseball field in my life---and all while we were on a nine game winning streak. The seniors this year were special all in their own ways, and that is what made it so fun."
For the last question in Drew Leach's interview, he was asked to say one word or a group of words that described the Class of 2020's players. He answered with no doubt, "Brotherhood."
Going into this season, senior Drew Leach was Strake Jesuit's most highly touted pitcher, and was set to have a great season. However, as all UIL activities have been suspended for the rest of the academic year, Drew's high school career has been cut short.
Unlike others who were planning on using their senior season to prove themselves to college programs, Leach had attracted offers from many Division 1 schools throughout his time playing for the Crusaders. This past November, Leach committed to play for the Baylor Bears.
In anticipation of his collegiate career, as well as to look back at his time in the Strake Jesuit Baseball program, VYPE was able to catch up with Drew.
Q: What were you looking forward to the most going into your senior season?
Drew: I was really looking forward to playing with some of my best friends. We are a very close group of guys and I think we could have done great things.
Q: What was your initial reaction after hearing that UIL confirmed there would be no season?
Drew: I was very upset as most people could have guessed, but I also feel remorse for some of my teammates who unfortunately don't have an opportunity to play at the next level or chose to end their career here.
Q: How will you prepare in the age of social distancing to play for Baylor next year?
Drew: It's no different than any off season, except for the fact that i can't practice with a team. I think it's going to test my work ethic for sure because this will be all self driven from now until I can play with a team again.
Q: What was your biggest accomplishment as a Strake Jesuit baseball player?
Drew: This accomplishment isn't a personal one, rather something the senior did as a group. We had a meeting with Coach Garcia-Rameau not too long ago, and he described us as a high energy team that has a lot of fun. I think that we brought a little bit of life into a game that is very difficult.
Q: What stood out at Baylor that ultimately made you choose to become a Bear?
Drew: So, something that stood out to me at Baylor is the environment that the coaches uphold. It is very similar to the way Coach Garcia-Rameau runs his program at Strake. It gives Baylor a very "at home" feel.
Q: What will you miss the most about Strake Jesuit baseball?
Drew: The thing I will miss the most about Strake Jesuit baseball and the school in general is the brotherhood among the students. Everyone is friends with everyone and I think that's a very unique thing.