OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — If you think Big 12 baseball matters far less today than it did before 200-mph winds pulverized entire neighborhoods, you’re right.
If you feel the Big 12 should scrub this week’s baseball tournament out of reverence to the lives shredded by Monday’s tornado, listen to the locals.
They say play ball.
After the OKC suburb of Moore was transformed into mounds of debris by what turned out to be an F5 twister, the Oklahoma City All Sports Association that hosts this tournament canvassed civic leaders for their sentiments on whether baseball should be played in Bricktown.
From Gov. Mary Fallin’s office to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and various chamber of commerce contacts, the response was uniform and resolute.
“To a man, they told them to proceed,” said WVU deputy director of athletics Mike Parsons.
Parsons, whose flight landed in Oklahoma City just as Monday’s storms sent emergency sirens blaring, was part of Tuesday’s discussion wherein reps from all the Big 12 schools debated what was appropriate, respectful and practical for the coming days.
He said canceling the tournament was a legitimate option, and one that for many observers, instinctively seemed proper. But sending eight baseball teams home and having the Bricktown Ballpark go dark for the week — like an extended moment of silence — would have achieved nothing more than to highlight the somber.
Once the Big 12 contingent became assured that carrying on would in no way hinder recovery efforts, and with locals insisting the tournament move forward, Parsons said the consensus was to postpone the event by a day and reconfigure the format.
With rescue teams unpiling rubble a few miles away, West Virginia coach Randy Mazey agreed with pushing back the start. “We didn’t want to be hitting balls while families were still looking for loved ones,” he said.
Mazey, whose family spent the past six years living inside “tornado alley” while he was an assistant at TCU, seemed particularly impacted. Advised by emergency coordinators that he couldn’t take his players to the storm site to assist with rescue efforts on Monday, the coach instead organized a trip to Wal-Mart where the team filled shopping carts with supplies.
For a guy who loves baseball, he admitted to having “mixed emotions going into this” tournament. Hearing him deflect questions about pitching rotations and how the pool-play format affects WVU, you came away thinking Mazey might have a more difficult time than his players when it comes to compartmentalizing baseball vs. tragedy.
“Should we even play this tournament? My thinking is because it’s a national event we’re in a position where we can help people,” he said. “If we can somehow raise some money through this venue, I’m willing to do whatever.”
And therein lies the validation for salvaging the 2013 Big 12 baseball tournament. With every matchup televised, that’s 13 games of exposure for relief-fund PSAs, and four days’ worth of sticky awareness that this community needs prayers and assistance long after the shocking images of storm demolition cycle off the news
“If we lose all three games we play but are able to help the people locally, that to me is all worth it,” Mazey said. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s like you’re playing for somebody else now.”