By NICK SNOW
OKLAHOMA CITY — West Virginia pitcher Harrison Musgrave has spent his entire life in the hills of West Virginia. He didn’t know what a tornado siren was — let alone the damage that can be done by swirling winds.
“I didn’t even know that they were going off,” Musgrave said. “I didn’t even know that they had sirens. I know I feel like a total idiot, but I heard them go off and I just thought it was an alarm going off.”
Musgrave and his teammates on the West Virginia baseball team got a heavy dose of reality Monday when an EF-5 tornado ripped through the town of Moore, less than 10 miles away from where the Mountaineers are staying.
“It’s really eye opening,” Musgrave said. “In West Virginia, we’ll never get a tornado. We don’t really know what it’s like to feel the destruction and to be around that type of situation. The way it happened was truly heartbreaking.”
That’s where the team’s story takes a little bit of a twist. As they watched the carnage unfold on the television, players weren’t asking, “How can we help?” or “Should we help?” Instead, they demanded it with a unanimous “We’re going to help.”
“As soon as the storm went through town, we were all glued to the television of course,” West Virginia coach Randy Mazey said. “Some of my guys texted me and said, ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ We started trying to get the team down into Moore to help.”
The Mountaineers never made it all the way to Moore Monday — being turned away by law enforcement officials. Even that didn’t stop them from lending a helping hand.
Armed with a full arsenal of players, the West Virginia bus rolled into a local grocery store and promptly raided its shelves, filling up more than 20 carts and purchasing somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000 in supplies all for a devastated town nearly 1,200 miles away from the Morgantown, W. Va., campus.
“We wanted to try to find a way to help because you feel so helpless,” Mazey said. “We just decided to go to Walmart, get every guy a shopping cart and tell them to fill it up with diapers, shoes, baby clothes — anything that you’d think people that would have to start over would need. We just loaded up all the grocery carts, went through the checkout line and loaded the bus up.”
Mazey is no stranger to natural disasters. He has experienced hurricanes, earthquakes and even a tornado warning during his first trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., as a member of the TCU staff.
Yet, none of this could prepare him for the devastation that surrounded the Moore community.
“My first experience with a tornado was the very first game I had ever coached at the College World Series in Omaha,” Mazey said. “At the conclusion of the game the sirens went off and we huddled in the basement of the hotel in uniform. ... I’ve lived a lot of different places, where I’ve dealt with tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes and all that stuff.
“I kind of had an idea, but still, it’s one of those things that you never really expect it to happen to you. I was watching it on TV and we were just anxious to help in any way we could.”
It may have sounded like a lot of work, racing up and down the aisles looking for life’s essentials, but Musgrave admitted that it was also kind of enjoyable. Not necessarily in the sense that you might think — running around the store with virtually a blank check — but the fact that they were helping others.
“I think we enjoyed it for the purpose we were going for — to help people more than just grabbing random stuff that we didn’t have to pay for,” Musgrave said. “It was good. We met a lady who lost everything and we gave her some stuff while we were there. It was a big deal. I think everybody enjoyed what it meant to do it.”
West Virginia’s efforts also helped rally other Big 12 teams. TCU brought buckets full of Gatorade and diapers to supply centers and Kansas also chipped in with its fair share of supplies.
And what about the Mountaineers? Well, they too were able to deliver their supplies — unloading a bus full of items in Norman Tuesday.
“To think that it was so close to where we were at, it really is terrible,” Musgrave said. “Five miles more in our direction, who knows what would have happened. ... Where most of us are from, we’ve never seen anything like that up close. It’s just terrifying.”
Without a doubt, West Virginia’s efforts have made them favorites outside of the two Oklahoma schools as the Big 12 Championship begins Thursday at Oklahoma City’s Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. While it remains to be scene whether or not the team takes a Big 12 championship back to Morgantown, the Mountaineers will definitely be taking something back apart from Musgrave’s Big 12 Pitcher of the Year award — plenty of stories.
“There will be some stories,” Musgrave said. “They’ll be realistic stories, telling how scary tornados are. You see them on the news and you don’t really worry about them because they’re thousands of miles away, but when they’re that close — 5 or 10 miles away — you kind of watch the news more and listen to what people are saying.”
“Whether we come here and win any games or lose games, no matter what happens when our kids get older and have children of their own, when they look back at this week, they’re not going to think about baseball games,” Mazey said. “They’re going to think about the help we tried to provide for people, and hopefully the impact we made on some people who were in pretty good need.”