The boys – and girls – of summer are coming back.
After the COVID-19 pandemic brought sports to a halt in mid-March, it was announced last week that baseball and softball will indeed be played on local diamonds this summer. In a message to members on June 8, Baseball Manitoba president Tony Siemens said:
“Today is like Christmas morning, baseball begins today.”
Baseball is taking a phased approach with a time period for training and then games will start. The local Oil Dome League is expected to run July 1-Aug. 1. Travis McColl, who is active in Elkhorn Minor Ball, which falls under the Elkhorn District Community Center, said “It is going to be a pretty whirlwind season with an eight-game schedule.”
“The board is excited to get things started on the 2020 season,” Virden Minor Ball president John Ross said. “We’ve been looking forward to putting a little normalcy back in town and maybe give the parents a little break at the same time.”
At a meeting last week, the Town of Virden Council resolved to open the diamonds and soccer field upon “approval of the Back to Play Safety Plans as approved by Manitoba Health and the corresponding Provincial Sports Organizations, if applicable,” CAO Rhonda Stewart said. She said the Town will be closely monitoring the Manitoba Health guidelines regarding opening other recreation facilities, such as the Tundra Oil & Gas Place.Tracy Howard, Virden’s Parks and Recreation Manager, is communicating with user groups about requirements. On Monday, Stewart said the Town is just finalizing the agreement each group will enter into for use of the community’s diamonds and fields.
Things will definitely be different. Regulations regarding social distancing, sanitizing, and more will join the infield fly rule and others as governors of the game.
“The Return to Play documents sent out by both Baseball Manitoba and Softball Manitoba have some great mitigations in place to protect both the public and the athletes,” Ross said. “I would ask for a little patience this year as this is a large group of volunteers that bring the season together. There are some changes that are being implemented this year that we will all need to adjust to.”
For example, part of Softball Manitoba’s Return to Play document states that catchers and batters should practice safe social distancing. Also, umpires may move from their traditional station behind the catcher to a vantage point behind the pitcher. Baseball Manitoba’s Return to Play document says there will be, among other restrictions, no sunflower seeds or gum, no pitcher/catcher mound visits, no sharing of water bottles, and no high fives – “a tip of the cap will do.”
McColl said that after a home run, players usually rush out of the “dugout to give their buddy a high five. … It’ll be hard to hold them back at times.”
He noted that a lot of people are working hard to make this baseball season happen for the young people. Numbers are down in Elkhorn, while Ross reported Virden Minor Ball, which starts practice on June 15, saw registration drop 15 to 20 per cent. However, he said the organization still has “some good numbers with just over 200 players.” Both McColl and Ross said that neighbouring communities are working together to form teams and ensure young people have a place to play.
“The most important thing to remember as with any sport, is to have fun and enjoy the season,” Ross said. “Now let’s play ball.”
At the senior “AA” baseball level, Des Koop, the Virden Oilers player/co-manager, said the South West Baseball League, which includes the Elkhorn Expos, will be going ahead. Decisions on how the regular season and playoffs will be conducted were still pending on Tuesday. Koop said his squad has lots of players.
For the Westman Ladies Fastball League, things are more up in the air. Brittanee Plaisier of the Virden-based Westman Wild said last week that:
“Our league is just trying to wait and see what minor ball clubs do as we will give the youth first dibs on the diamonds. We are hoping to know or have an idea sooner than later but at this time, our league play for 2020 isn’t looking very promising.”
The Virden Slo Pitch League is looking to salvage its season. League representative Madison Mossop said: “People are eager to get out and play like always, but we have to see what we can schedule around other groups, who are now behind in their seasons, and what kind of regulations we will have to follow.”