WVU baseball team channels energies to help Okla. victims
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- What Randy Mazey's players didn't know probably helped them navigate the chaos that gripped Oklahoma Monday.
"A lot of the guys who don't have experience with tornadoes, I don't think they were scared or threatened at all," the West Virginia baseball coach said Tuesday, a day after a powerful tornado barreled through Moore, Okla.
"Unless you've been through one, you can't understand the sheer power of one of them."
The Mountaineers are staying in Oklahoma City in advance of this week's Big 12 Tournament. Their hotel is about four or five miles away from the path of devastation left by the mile-wide twister.
The team went from a practice at the University of Central Oklahoma and bused to the YMCA in Oklahoma City for weight training Monday. No one was too rattled when the dark clouds gathered, or when a woman told them to put down their weights and hasten their exit.
"We were in the city, only a couple blocks away from the hotel, so we got on the bus and it was pretty heavy hail and rain," senior right fielder Brady Wilson said. "I think a lot of guys were pumped up about maybe seeing a tornado. I don't think anybody knew."
The team arrived back at its hotel. Some went off to eat lunch. Others headed to their rooms. Wilson turned on his television, found the news, snapped out of a spell of disbelief and grabbed his cellphone to send a text message to Mazey.
"We've got to do something. This is going to do a lot of damage. People are going to need help."
Mazey's mind was already rounding the bases. It was decided the Mountaineers would wait the hour or so before the tornado cleared the area. Mazey called the Oklahoma City Police Department, which transferred him to the Moore Police Department, which transferred him to a command center dealing with the storm aftermath.
At first, Mazey started giving orders to the players to board a bus to go and help. But plans changed when he realized they might actually interfere with the early stages of the relief effort.
"We didn't want to clog things up and create traffic for people who needed to see if their loved ones were OK or who just couldn't get in there," Mazey said.
So, the Mountaineers would wait, not because they wanted to, but because they had to.
Wilson said it was "extremely frustrating" for a team of young, strong men to stand by helplessly and witness the tragedy from a distance.
"We wanted to get out there and help as many people as possible," Wilson said. "All we could do was watch the news. You couldn't even imagine the devastation."
They soon came to realize it would be hours, maybe days, before they were allowed to physically help.
They did the next best thing and headed to a local Walmart.
The team broke into groups of two and quickly filled baskets with necessities. Mazey said shoppers figured out what was happening and started handing him $20 bills.
"It's amazing the strength of people in times of tragedy and hope," he said.
His players had a plan and sought batteries, flashlights, shoes, children's clothes, anything that would help.
And then Michael Constantini, a junior shortstop, saw her.
"You see it on the news and hear it on the radio and that stuff doesn't really hit you like it does when you experience it right in front of you," Wilson said, "when you meet somebody who's been hit so hard by all of this."
There in the store stood a woman, tears streaming down her cheeks. Constantini, sophomore second baseman Billy Fleming and senior pitcher Dan Dierdorff approached to console her. They wanted to hear her story.
Her name was Jamie and she'd only recently found her 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. The children had been at school when the tornado ripped through their town. For a while, Jamie had only the worst ideas about what had happened.
Her children safe, her world in disarray, she'd finally found the time and the strength to go to the store and buy some things to take back to the hotel where her family had relocated.
Mazey brought Jamie to a group of Mountaineers who had already made it through the checkout line. Sophomore catcher Max Nogay started picking through the bags to find clothes for her kids, to find a phone charger, to find anything she said she needed.
About an hour after the players had started checking out, the Mountaineers left the store and went to their hotel. Tuesday afternoon, the team boarded the bus that would finally take them to people they could help. WVU traveled to Norman and a shelter where many of the victims in Moore had been transferred.
Meanwhile, the legend grew online.
The baseball team's presence was impossible to miss on Twitter as fans and followers spread word of their good deeds. A Facebook page for Oklahoma State fans called OrangePower Network posted a picture of the Mountaineers posing with all their bags as they left Walmart. It had more than 62,000 "likes" and 1,500 comments and had been shared nearly 1,000 times by Tuesday evening.
"Twenty years from now when they're looking back on their baseball careers and the baseball tournament in Oklahoma City, I have my doubts they're going to remember the games at all," Mazey said.
"They're going to remember what we did for the families and the impact we had on people whose lives have been devastated."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.