LMU baseball coach reflects on last visit to Provo — the week sports stopped
The Lions and Cougars were preparing for a three-game series in Provo in 2020 when the opener was abruptly canceled. Turned out the rest of the games that spring would be too
Nathan Choate will breathe a sigh of relief tonight when the first pitch is delivered to open the BYU-Loyola Marymount baseball series at Miller Park (6 p.m., BYUtv app). It has been a long time coming.
“I will definitely let out a huge exhale,” said Choate, who is in his fourth season as LMU’s head coach. “I was thinking about that last night during practice. A lot has changed since the last time I was here looking at these mountains.”
The Lions were in the middle of their workout at BYU on Thursday, March 11, 2020, when Choate received a text message that the game, the series and the season might be in jeopardy.
It was the same day the Deseret News reported that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 and all NBA games were abruptly canceled. What that meant for Choate, his staff and the 27 baseball players he had brought to Provo remained to be seen.
When the sun climbed over Y Mountain the following morning LMU still didn’t have any definitive answers. Then a call came from BYU. The game would be played, but without any fans in attendance.
Choate prepped his squad to play before his phone rang a second time.
“It was 40 minutes before we were to get on the bus to drive to the stadium when I got the word that the game was off and we needed to find a way to get home,” he said.
The world was changing quickly. Choate considered renting a bus and driving to Los Angeles, but there happened to be enough cancellations on two flights that he could divide up the team and fly home that night.
Two years later, under much different circumstances, the Lions (18-30-1, 13-13) are back at BYU where they will attempt to qualify for next week’s conference tournament. The Cougars (31-19, 14-10) are already locked in the field.
“The postseason starts tonight,” he said. “We control our own destiny to the NCAA tournament. Both teams do.”
LMU needs one win or a Pepperdine loss to Portland over the final three games of the regular season to clinch a spot.
Choate is grateful to be back in Provo with just a baseball game to worry about and when the first pitch is delivered, he will breathe a giant sigh of relief.
The longest game
If 2020 was the longest year for college sports, the Lions had an early taste of it with the longest game in program history and second longest in NCAA history.
Two weeks prior to the BYU series, on Feb. 28, LMU hit the road for a three-game set at UC Davis. The Friday night opener was suspended after 13 innings due to darkness. The Aggies stadium doesn’t have lights.
The game was resumed the following day and lasted 11 more innings before the Lions succumbed to a 4-3 defeat. The 24-inning battle lasted six hours and 30 minutes. The two teams combined to use 12 pitchers and left 37 runners on base.
“That was wild,” Choate said. “Then we had to play a doubleheader the following Sunday. We played 40 innings of baseball that weekend.”
There is a thread of blue that runs through LMU’s school colors, but Dodger blue rolls through its baseball roster.
“Most of these kids are from Southern California and grew up Dodgers fans. It’s their favorite team,” Choate said. “To have one of their buddy’s dads be the manager is pretty cool.”
Cole Roberts is a senior second baseman whose father, Dave Roberts, is the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As hard as it is for a parent to stand back and let a coach be the coach, Roberts has kept his distance.
“He wants Cole to be Cole Roberts and not just Dave Roberts’ son,” Choate said. “He was here during fall workouts, and we had some really good baseball discussions.”
If only the rules would permit Choate to include Dodgers players on rehab assignments in his lineup, his chances of winning during the three-game series at BYU would greatly improve.
“We are excited,” he said. “BYU is playing really well. Their bullpen is outstanding.”
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.