Wednesday, March 11, was the last normal day T.J. Stuart can remember. All was right with his world that day as Stuart, a Manhattan College senior right-hander, was set to pitch against Sacred Heart University in a road game in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Stuart was 14 games into his final season at Manhattan, and the prior two seasons saw him named a Second Team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference selection. During his sophomore season, he set a school record with 10 saves. His junior year he was second in the MAAC with eight victories.
And now he was humming along in his senior season with a 2.42 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 26 innings. That ERA? Good for fifth in the MAAC.
And it didn’t hurt that his parents, Tom and Donna, were at the game to see the Milford, Connecticut native work his magic against Sacred Heart.
“My pitching coach, Coach (Chris) Cody, asked me if I could throw an inning or two because we weren’t playing that weekend because Manhattan had already pulled the trigger and canceled all our non-conference games for the rest of the season” due to the coronavirus, Stuart said. “So I got on the mound thinking this might potentially be my last time pitching because I’m a senior.”
It was a rare off-day for Stuart as he walked two and allowed a run. But he was sure to shake it off and be ready for the Jaspers’ next game, one the program had waited seven years to play. Manhattan was finally returning to Van Cortlandt Park to play its first real home game since 2014 after a five-year stint at Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, some 70 miles north of Manhattan’s campus.
So there was a lot to look forward to.
Until there wasn’t.
The following day, the MAAC called a halt to the 2020 season due to the pandemic, and suddenly Stuart’s stellar career was over.
“As a senior, I was numb when I heard the news because I knew how much work I put in for four years to get to this point,” Stuart said. “And there was also the news that we would be playing at Van Cortlandt Park this spring, and it was something that created a lot of excitement around the program and around campus. Baseball was back in the Bronx.”
It was a tremendous punch to the gut for the Jaspers’ baseball program.
“No one on our roster had ever had a chance to play a home game, and they were really excited to be coming back to Van Cortlandt,” Manhattan head coach Mike Cole said. “We talked about it for the last six months and they were really looking forward to it. So to not be able to play at home this year was tough for everybody. Tough for our administration, tough for our school. Everybody on campus was looking forward to us coming back.”
A couple of days later, the NCAA announced it would grant an additional year of eligibility to spring sports seniors who saw their careers end prematurely. But that news left Stuart in a state of limbo. Should he return for another year at Manhattan, despite the fact he is scheduled to graduate in May, and pursue a master’s degree? Or does he follow his dream of playing professional baseball and wait to hear his name called in the Major League Baseball draft in June?
But that decision isn’t as clear cut as one might expect.
“I just think everything has been put on pause,” Stuart said. “I think the school business would have to take precedence, because right now, you don’t know if the draft is going to take place in June. There are a lot of question marks with that.
“But in terms of school, there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of if I decide to come back. I’d have to figure out housing and applying for master’s programs, so I would rather solidify that stuff with school and then, if the draft ends up taking place and I end up hearing my name called, then I can go from there.”
The only thing certain these days is uncertainty, but Stuart sees the bigger picture in a world gone sideways.
“We’re living in unprecedented times and it hurts to have my senior season taken away,” Stuart said. “But this affects more people than just student-athletes. It affects good, hard-working people, health care workers, teachers, government employees, and people who live wage-to-wage. So when you think about your baseball season and your final semester in college, in the grand scheme of things, it’s very miniscule.”