Jacob Barriga

Jacob Barriga

by Jacob Barriga
photography by Shira O’Neal-Abend

It was a time of depression. It was a time of change. It was a time of loneliness for many people who had their daily events and routines taken away.

It brought me relief.

For the first time since I was an adolescent, I was able to relax and go deep in myself to self-reflect and to observe my surroundings. I became more assertive in pursuit of my goals, more focused in my daily habits, and I was able to make time for my loved ones.

The COVID-19 quarantine was a shock at first, but it wasn’t a devastating feeling. At first, it was disbelief in that I couldn’t imagine this was happening, but I accepted it because that is what I usually do. Nevertheless, I was upset because I had to uproot and leave everything that was building up for me in college.

In that 2020 spring semester moment that is now frozen in time, the University of La Verne Men’s Baseball Team was looking to turn a corner and get back to its winning ways in the last half of the season. We were playing as a complete team, and hitting our stride in both pitching and hitting. I was just starting to crack the starting lineup in my position as an outfielder. I had just met a great new friend who happened to live right next door in the Vista Residence Hall. I also had just started working at my new job at the La Verne In N Out to keep me financially afloat for the rest of the school year before going back home for the summer.

Then, that episode of my life was over. It was like someone unplugged the TV in the middle of my favorite episode.

I was forced to go back home to Yucaipa after everything was going so great in La Verne. But deep down, I was happy to go back home, and I was kind of excited to see what this new experience would bring. To be honest, I was a little down and melancholy in my dorm. I spent hours by myself in my room not talking to many people. All my closest friends had moved out of the dorm and now lived down the street in their own house. It wasn’t too far, but without a car, there wasn’t an easy way to traverse a mile and a half to get over there often. I couldn’t see my family too often either due to the same car problems. I was even starting to get stressed from the new job and feeling a little overwhelmed. However, I am the type of person to just take it on the chin and keep moving forward. So, when I was forced to leave, I wasn’t too mad about it.

Going back home, I felt the weight come off my shoulders and disappear into thin air. Nobody had to take the weight, which was the best part. It was just gone. I was able to breathe, and my eyes were focused again.

I found my classes were much easier and immediate online as everyone learned to adjust to the new format. The first few weeks at home were spent inside and also visiting my grandmother in Las Vegas. Sadly, my grandfather passed shortly after the mandatory quarantine hit Southern California (not of COVID), and my grandmother needed my family.

It was at this point that I was able to focus on things that would put me in a position to maximize my last two years in college. I was able to work out in my home gym everyday squatting, benching and focusing on my strength to prepare for a potential upcoming football season where I am an offensive receiver. I previously had not been able to focus on my spring off season training because I am captured by my ULV baseball team. Working out for the coming football season and saving up money to move out were keeping me motivated throughout the summer.

With my parents’ Chrysler Impala, I was able to be faithful to my La Verne In N Out job. By August, I was also able to open up my work hours and save money to be able to move in with my friends. I made the important decision to move out of my parents’ house and live with my baseball teammates.

My baseball teammates are my best friends, and we were gearing up for what was supposed to be the most exciting time of our college career.

That’s when it started to hurt, and everything started to spiral. The football season was canceled, and our baseball season was in jeopardy. I took it on the chin for the first four months. But now, it was gone again, and this second blow took the wind out of me.

My teammates and I trudged along working out on our own, practicing in groups in order to stay ready for a potential season. However, I lost a sense of my identity. Sports are what I have done my whole life, and I was centered around what I now see as these “meaningless” sports. Looking at my reflection, it became hollow. Not because I disliked myself. I felt like I was left with nothing. I put most of my effort into something that was taken away from me so fast, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I started to second guess myself.

I know friends and other peers who were getting ahead of the curve starting their careers. I saw my classmates gearing up for their internships and setting themselves up for their futures after college. I went to an expensive, private school (ULV) because it gave me the chance to elongate my athletic career, and now I was reflecting on whether it was the best decision I could’ve made for my future. There was a moment of emptiness. It was hard and disappointing, especially as COVID-19 spiked during the holidays. A baseball season seemed too far in the distance. I was forced to accept the fact that my favorite thing to do in the world would be gone for the rest of the year.

As it turned out, ULV went online spring 2021. My baseball housemates and other team members regularly went to Cahuilla Park next to Claremont High School and held informal scrimmages. We didn’t have a coach present but held productive practices with more than 25 ULV players present. Then, my baseball team started formal practice mid-March. Head coach Scott Winterburn, coach Mason Stoltenberg and coach Ethan Fulsher led us to a truncated spring season where we played 12 games against SCIAC opponents. We came in third, behind Chapman and Cal Lutheran.

I came back to campus fall 2021. I had two shots of Pfizer. I felt ULV was somewhat prickly about our being on campus. We all wore masks. If someone tested positive for COVID and was identified as being near us, we were quarantined. As the semester progressed, I continued to hope the lock down was behind me. I played football and looked forward to the baseball season. Unfortunately, COVID numbers in the population surged again, starting with the holiday break, and ULV classes returned to Zoom during January Interterm and included the first two weeks of February. This spring semester, I feel we are starting to climb away from the COVID mandates.

But I am a different person. COVID, although it did not directly affect me, has changed me. I have a new outlook on life, new goals, new motivation. I have learned to open up to my family. After spending many months with life on hold with the family stuck in my childhood home, the importance of open communication with my family provides a rock and foundation that will always be there in my life. I appreciate the present.

Everything can be taken away in an instant, and we must enjoy the things we have and control what we can control, which helps us live fulfilled lives. Most importantly, I have learned to work for myself. I have always worked and wanted to achieve for my family and friends who support me.

However, the quarantine period helped me realize that in order to be truly successful in my endeavors, I must work for myself because in the end there is only one person who must be truly proud of my work, and that is I. As I move forward communicating with loved ones, appreciating the moment and working on and for myself, I am excited for life after ULV and invite the challenges and moments to come. ■

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