Craig Phillips has been watching a lot of sports reruns on television, catching up on his reading and walking quite a bit since the high school spring sports season was put on hold as part of the response to the spread of the coronavirus. His journey Saturday led to the Fort Plain baseball field where he's led Hilltoppers for more than four decades.
"I was out by the fence in center field, and I was looking at the field," Phillips said. "I've got nine seniors who can't play baseball. I'm trying to be optimistic."
That's all the veteran coach can do these days, with his 47th season halted March 15 when schools in Fulton, Montgomery and Hamilton counties were closed and ordered to cease all group athletic functions until further notice. On March 13, Section II had made the decision to postpone all games and scrimmages until April 19.
"When the kids call, I tell them, 'Two years ago, we didn't start until April 30 and we got all of our games in,'" Phillips said. "We're just hoping. The roster is all set and the schedule is all set. Just waiting for the OK.”
“It may not come,” Phillips said.”
But, then again, it just might, and Phillips wants his Hilltoppers with their bright new uniforms ready to go.
"I want them to stay active. I tell them to throw in the back yard with your brothers and sisters," Phillips said. "Do some running. I think it's important to get outdoors."
Phillips liked what he saw from his team in winter workouts and in the few days they did get to spend outdoors together after the official start of the spring season on March 9.
"Best pitching staff I ever had," Phillips said of his mound cast that includes Troy Butler, John Cortese, Taylor Gifford and Nate Buley. "I was worried about finding enough games so they all could pitch."
Beyond that, the multi-hall of fame coach with a New York State Public High School Athletic Association-record 798 career wins has got a talented and experienced group — and a hungry one — after last season ended with a 9-1 loss to Ticonderoga in the Class C state quarterfinals.
Fort Plain was 21-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state before that setback kept the Hilltoppers from advancing to the state final four for the seventh time under Phillips. Two of his previous teams, in 2016 (Class D) and 2007 (Class C), earned state championships.
Fort Plain was scheduled to begin its season March 30 at Western Athletic Conference rival Fonda-Fultonville. Phillis said he was very much looking forward to that opener that, for now, is on hold, and quite possibly may never happen at all.
"I feel for those seniors," Phillips said. "I'd love to hear them say we can play, even if it's in June or July."
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association will announce Monday if it plans to keep the incomplete winter sports championships (in basketball, hockey and bowling) as postponed or to cancel them. The NYSPHSAA is also expected to announce a date that will serve as a deadline to make a determination regarding if it is feasible to sponsor spring state championships this school year.