Noah Rakes was looking forward to baseball season. Not just because he loves the sport and this was supposed to be his senior season. He also relished the chance to be a leader.
Woodrow Wilson was set to usher in a new era with first-year coach Chris Walls, and one of the guys Walls was going to be counting on was Rakes, his center fielder and leadoff hitter. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought all that to what they hope is a temporary halt.
All of a sudden, the 17-year-old was having to put things in perspective.
"All I could think was, I'm playing my senior year of baseball and I don't know if I'm going to end up playing in college or not," Rakes said. "So I don't know if that was it. I've been playing baseball my whole life, and to just not know if this is the end is just so heartbreaking."
Rakes was ready to assume a leadership role. He didn't wait for the season to start to take on that burden.
Mark Daniel resigned last year after 19 seasons as the Flying Eagles' head coach. It was a move Rakes called "heartbreaking," but he and the other seniors took it upon themselves to coordinate offseason work.
"We still wanted to get after it and get better, because we knew we had to, losing every starter except for me and two others," Rakes said. "Nobody else on the team really had game experience. Me and the other seniors knew we had to do something to get better. We asked for the keys to the field and got on the field two or three times a week in the fall. We would go over there and practice and have our own little intrasquad scrimmages with the parents watching.
"I got in contact with other (area) teams and we'd find a coach for the games. They would take us and we would scrimmage them. Then we got some tournaments at Greenbrier West. We played (Greenbrier) East and Greenbrier West, and I think Shady (Spring) was there one time. We just decided we had to get better and keep working. That's what we did all fall, really, and all winter."
Walls was happy to see the leadership exhibited by his would-be seniors.
"One of the things that drew me to coach here was that they ran their own offseason team ... Noah was the main one keeping it together and organized," he said. "I respected that of him and the others that they would do that. You can coach a bunch of young men on a team that has that mentality."
Aside from baseball, Rakes never thought he would be as affected as he has been by not being in school. He said he has learned not to take anything for granted, no matter the aspect of life.
"When you're in school, you're like, 'Man, I wouldn't miss this,' but I did a complete 180," Rakes said. "You sit there and you complain about school all the time, then when you're sitting at home doing nothing for about a month or two ... Every single day I was like, 'Man, I wish I could wake up three hours later to go to school today and see everybody.'
"It's my senior year. I went to school with all those people my entire life and have been around them every single day, and I'll probably never see them again. Most of my friends, we won't end up going to the same colleges so I'll probably never be around them ever again. That hurts.
"I was really involved in Woodrow. I knew all the teachers, pretty much. I knew all the kids. I talked to everybody. And just for it to end like that and I didn't even (get to prepare) and didn't get to enjoy the last part of my senior year, it hurts."
In the brief time he got to work with the team, Walls was impressed with Rakes on and off the field.
"He is definitely a next-level player, for sure," Walls said. "He runs very well and plays a solid outfield. He handles the bat well and is a threat of dropping down a bunt for a base hit at any time.
"Take baseball out of the equation and just him as a person you can’t help but enjoy being around him. He has a natural leadership personality that doesn’t need coaxing. It’s just natural."
Rakes said he has been doing all he can to stay in game shape, from hitting off the tee to working out. The longer baseball is taken away from him, the more he realizes his college decision may have already been made.
"(Walls) put me and another senior Kaden (Williams) on to a visit to (WVU) Tech and (West Virginia) Wesleyan," Rakes said. "I was actually just going to wait until the spring season to see if that was really what I wanted to do. At this point I think I'm leaning more toward pursuing a college career since I didn't have my senior year. I'm really looking at Tech and staying home."
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