|Youth Baseball, Softball Leagues Working to Salvage Seasons|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
06:26AM / Saturday, May 09, 2020
|Little Leaguers in the Dalton-Hinsdale League march in its 2018 opening day parade. The landscapes far different for 2020 as leagues wonder how they might play during a pandemic.|
Players in the Williamstown Cal Ripken League eagerly await the start of opening day festivities last spring.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Playing before an international television audience in Williamsport, Pa., is not the goal for Little Leaguers this year.
Playing games in their own hometowns will be victory enough.
Local youth baseball and softball officials are discussing how they can give youngsters an experience in the sport if and when state and local authorities give the green light.
Last week, Little League announced that it is following the lead of its colleagues in professional, college and high school sports by canceling the World Series and Regional tournaments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not known how many other national competitions will follow in its footsteps.
Here in the Berkshires, Little League seasons would have been gearing up right around now with players competing on "house league" teams with dreams of making the all-star squads that compete for spots in district and state tournaments.
When the county's Little League representatives met remotely on Monday to review the landscape, the one thing they knew for sure is that no one knows for sure when or if they will be able to put any teams on the field this year.
"Everyone is in agreement that we want to have a season of some sort if and when we can," Little League District 1 Administrator Bryon Sherman said on Wednesday. "Obviously, a lot of that is dependent on what Gov. Baker comes out with on May 18."
That is the date the governor's executive order closing non-essential businesses is set to expire. The order already has been extended once, from its original end date of May 4. But when that extension was announced, Gov. Charlie Baker also announced the creation of an advisory panel to develop recommendations for a phased reopening of the state's economy.
"We have to check with each municipality dealing with field usage," Sherman said. "In Dalton, the CRA runs the field at Chamberlain Park. For everyone else, it is a city or a town, and it's going to depend on when they decide the parks will open."
Sherman said that league officials are thinking through issues ranging from whether teams from different leagues will play one another to how they can keep equipment clean to whether the home plate umpire will stand directly behind the catcher as he normally would.
They also are thinking about the schedule, though they can't guess when that schedule would start.
"Even if it was July 1, we're still going to try to find a way to have a meaningful regular season for the kids," Sherman said. "The safety of the kids is our number one priority. We're not going to do anything unless the coast is clear."
In Williamstown, the board of the local Cal Ripken baseball and softball league is having similar conversations with identical priorities.
"As a board, we really want to see baseball happen in our community," Williamstown Cal Ripken President Chris Johnson said. "But we're going to do it when the time is right based on local and state officials' best recommendation. The health and safety of our coaches, players and families is really our number one concern.
"That said, we hope to play baseball."
Johnson said the post-season is "virtually canceled" for 2020, but the Williamstown league is talking to its colleagues in Lanesborough, Lee and Pownal, Vt., about how to coordinate schedules.
And even if statewide tournaments are not in the cards, both the Cal Ripken and Little League groups are communicating with their counterparts throughout the commonwealth to share ideas about how to save the season.
"Once Gov. Baker releases the 'new normal,' as a baseball group across Massachusetts, we're going to figure out how to get kids on the field safely," Johnson said.
"The great news for us is the Williamstown community is supportive, positive and flexible. I think we've only processed two refunds out of 170 [registrations] so far. I've been sending out emails weekly. It's tough to have to tell everyone baseball is on hold, but we're getting the support from the community for youth baseball."
Down in Pittsfield, Bree Goddard is seeing strong support for youth softball.
The president of Pittsfield Girls Softball reports that all the families who registered before the pandemic hit are staying with the league.
"Nobody has asked for a refund," Goddard said. "They've just said, 'Keep us posted.' The kids want to play.
"We're hoping to have a [house league] season, whether it means it starts later or a summer season, we're really going to try. If they push it out later, it might mean fall. We really want to get the kids playing at some point.
"Four hundred girls is a lot to not be playing."
While the Pittsfield Girls Softball board thinks about how it might create a rescheduled season for its house league teams, it also is keeping an eye on the usually busy travel league schedule.
"One of the biggest things we're struggling right now is waiting to hear from the state because we have a tournament scheduled for here at the end of June for travel," Goddard said. "There are about 25 teams registered from five different states. That's all up in the air."
Travel tournaments also are important to the Adams Lassie League, whose Greylock Thunder program sends under-14, under-16 and under-18 teams around the Northeast and as far away as South Carolina each summer.
"Everything is so state specific," said Lassie League President Corey Bishop. "If New Jersey doesn't open up and Connecticut does, maybe we can play more in Connecticut. New York, from what I'm hearing from coaches over there, they're not too optimistic at this point that they're going to have a season. But they've been talking about — if things open up down the road and there was no tournament type season — organizing some scrimmages and double-headers just to get the kids to play."
That's the theme back home, where the Lassie League already was in a holding pattern with unresolved questions about how the town would resolve field scheduling questions between the Lassie League and the Adams-Cheshire-Savoy program.
"Even if we were able to start to do something [coming out of the pandemic], we'd have to go back to Parks and Rec and figure out a plan and schedule with ACS to share it properly and equitably," Bishop said.
Once they get the green light to practice and play, Bishop said the Lassie League is open to working on scheduling games with programs in North Adams and Williamstown to get more games in a potentially shortened season, Bishop said.
Whatever happens, the league is committed to continuing to teach the game of softball.
"On the house level, we'll do anything we can when it opens up again, even if it's just doing instruction clinics and maybe putting on some co-op clinics," Bishop said. "We could co-op with anybody who wanted to play. We'd take kids, send kids out there, do whatever just to get the kids playing again."
Williamstown Cal Ripken also is thinking creatively to find ways to teach its players.
Johnson said the league is planning a series of tutorials on the Zoom video conferencing platform.
"We're going to feature different coaches in the league," he said. "We're going to have backyard sessions regarding catching and throwing. These are things kids can do in their yard, working on the fundamentals of baseball."
Johnson and Sherman each said league officials want to be in the best position possible to get teams picked and games played as soon as it's safe to do so.
"The primary focus has to be a regular season first," Sherman said. "What comes after that would be the gravy. Actually, the gravy would be just to get the regular season in at this point.
"I'm hesitant to say we're canceling anything. Obviously, the regular season as we know it is postponed. But we're trying to get the players a season of some sort that they can enjoy. … Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken are following the same approach. They're not canceling anything either."