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Column: Dominek Cervantes of Birmingham prepares for the day school and baseball return

Junior outfielder Dominek Cervantes of Birmingham can't wait for a return to baseball and on-campus classes.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Dominek Cervantes of Lake Balboa Birmingham is at a private outdoor batting cage in North Hills stretching his arms, clearing his mind and inhaling fresh air after spending hours on his home computer in his bedroom finishing a day of online classes.

These are not normal times, and COVID-19 has changed the way teenagers think of school. In fact, many are saying things they never would have uttered before.

“I really want to go to school,” said Cervantes, a promising junior baseball player.

Asked if he had ever expressed that kind enthusiasm for school before COVID-19, the 16-year-old said, “No.”

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The clock is ticking for those students who haven’t been on campuses since school closures in March. They’re trying to adapt, adjust and make the most of a not-so-pleasant experience of online learning and being away from classmates. They understand safety issues are in play, but they are losing out on so much.

“When we’re at school, we’re more social, more active, more talkative instead of being home and being more shy on the computer,” Cervantes said.

Cervantes started in right field as a freshman on Birmingham’s City Section championship baseball team in 2019. He remembers the final out at Dodger Stadium.

“It was the best moment,” he said. “I was at first in shock. My adrenaline was up. I was tearing up because I knew I wouldn’t see these guys again. I threw my glove up. ‘Did this really happen? Is this my first dream?’ It really happened. I liked the feeling. It was a moment every high school kid asks for.”

His sophomore season lasted eight games when schools closed. No return trip to Dodger Stadium. No chance to show scouts how much he had improved.

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Now he looks at his encased championship ring and championship cap on his desk when he does homework in his bedroom. “It’s motivation,” he said.

Cervantes has grown to 5 feet 10 and 185 pounds. He’s 25 pounds heavier than last season, when he hit one home run. “I feel a lot more power,” he said.

But there’s a big “if” hovering over his future and many others who want to play high school sports in 2020-21. While sports schedules have come out, with mid-December the beginning of the next seasons, they only matter if the people in charge say it’s safe enough to go back to school and compete in sports.

“My patience is key,” he said. “If you don’t have patience, you’re not going to get anywhere. If you don’t have the patience to get your work, then it’s not going to get done. If we do go back, I feel I’ll be way more effective. I will feel more confident.”

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There has been one positive sign to schools being closed for months and sports competitions being canceled. The players have learned to take nothing for granted.

“After this, it’s really a lesson learned for everybody,” Cervantes said. “It can get taken away in the blink of an eye. It will make everyone more effective.”

So Cervantes and many others are stuck in a holding pattern. They are spending weekdays at home on their computers, then going out to exercise on their own in the afternoon while trying to stay ready when they are called back to school and given the chance to be with coaches and teammates again.

Asked what he thinks about when he goes to sleep at night, Cervantes said, “I think about hopefully hearing the good news we get to go back to school and play. That’s the news I wish to hear some day.”


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