Baseball Parks, Fields, and Complexes

A Proposal To Stay Safe At Local Baseball Parks

I want to start by encouraging every Rhode Island baseball player, parent, community leader to continue to practice the safety and healthy CDC guidelines as well as the orders set forth by their local, state, and federal community leaders. This is not a proposal to encourage players, coaches, and families to go against local and state executive orders prohibiting large gatherings at state parks, recreational facilities, beaches, and other public gathering places. The mandates, as I have seen and read, state 5 people or less. We need to follow the leadership and counsel of our elected officials, who are working diligently to make sense of this pandemic situation. We are in this together, so let’s work together to stay safe and ensure the safety of others.

I am very familiar with the hundreds of baseball fields here in Rhode Island and nothing pains me more than to see these fields empty. The grass is starting to grow and look green and full. For the most part, the infield dirt surfaces remain clean and groomed with neither a cleat mark nor a skid from sliding. There are no leftover baseballs in the outfields nor over the fences after batting practice. Some of the fields are lined and others have the bases installed. It is a truly eerie and frankly sad reflection of the pandemic we are all struggling to get through. Empty baseball fields are sometimes great for photography but ultimately I would much rather photograph a live game with hundreds of screaming fans. I want the fields filled with fans, players, coaches, and communities as soon as we possibly can. Unfortunately, we don’t have any idea when that will be at this point in time.

So, how can we stay safe at our local baseball fields during this pandemic, stay compliant with the local and state executive orders, and potentially have an opportunity to practice on the fields? Here are a few thoughts. Each city and town is different in terms of who maintains the recreational fields that local baseball leagues play on. Each city and town has its own executive orders as to the use of these fields during this pandemic situation. Each city and town is doing their part to enforce these rules, to the best of their abilities and based on workforce. And within each baseball community, there is leadership that governs the local baseball leagues. Each league has a league president, vice president, safety officer – essentially an executive board that makes decisions. With this type of proposal, many people would have to be on the same page, with no exemptions, for this to work and maintain the safety of the parties involved.

A town or city recreation sign up sheet is required to rent a town or city facility. I have rented the North Kingstown Community Center for concerts for years. There is a form on the North Kingstown Town website. There are dates available via an online calendar. There is a fee and a deposit that is required. Once the form is filled out and I place the deposit, I can go to the town offices and obtain a key to enter the facility. There is a waiver to sign and there is an expectation that I will respect the property, clean up after the event, and return the facility to where it was before I entered. I am then required to return the key and my deposit is returned, should there be no damage to the facility. A form, a waiver, a deposit, an expectation of doing the right thing, cleaning up to ensure the next party has the same opportunity as I just did, and a key return to the rightful owners of the facility, my town of North Kingstown.

Let’s put that same rental sheet into the mix for the nearly 100 baseball fields here in Rhode Island. Each town or city could draft a rental form. A parent or guardian would be required to fill it out. A waiver would be required to outline the parameters of usage. A list of the various baseball fields, their addresses, and their available times would populate and you can select a field and time frame. Make the time frames staggered so there are no overlaps and crowds gathered outside the fields to watch other practices. Say 9am to 10am, then the next time frame is 10:30am to 11:30am. You and your party of less than 5 cannot show up to the field without a “key.” That “key” maybe an code to get into a facility or a combination code to a door or gate. You will be required treat the facility with respect, clean up any surfaces you use that others will use, rake the field, pickup any bottles or gum wrappers, and leave the facility the way you entered it. When you are finished with your time slot, you are to leave immediately, no extra time, just the time you are allotted, lock the gates, and doors and exit the park so the next party can come in and enjoy it.

How to police this proposal? We cannot just leave a bunch of kids at a baseball field and hope that they will do the right thing. A parent or coach must be present for this to work. Most baseball fields have some sort of press box or structure on site that a coach could maintain a sense of order. Coaches and league officials could rotate monitoring the fields in the press box or via cameras if they happen to have those installed at their facilities. Local police departments should be made aware of the proposed parks that would participate and should feel free to police any disrespectful activity. Any activity deemed to be non-compliant with the rental form and its wording will result in that party being disallowed to use the facilities until further notice. Any party that doesn’t comply with the time frames posted and stays longer will be disallowed from using the facility. Any parties that do not sanitize and clean surfaces that were used during their allotted time will be disallowed from using the facilities. Simply put, if given the opportunity to use the baseball fields, use them as the sign up form and waiver form intends you to use them or face expulsion from the facilities until further notice.

I am most definitely on both sides of this argument to open recreational facilities like baseball fields so kids can play. On the one hand, I want social distancing to be taken seriously. This virus can spread through the air, by touching untreated/unclean surfaces, cardboard boxes, the handles of baseball bats, and handshakes. On the other hand, kids are getting antsy at home and want to get some stress out and baseball is just one of the many solutions to dealing with that stress. Plus, the social interaction of baseball is so uplifting for so many. In the end, human beings need to do the right thing and some will be 100% compliant and others will not be. If a proposal like this were to take shape and happen, there will be definitely be the non-compliants who would potentially doom its existence. I am an ultimate optimist and just absolutely dream and hope that a proposal like this would bring joy and happiness to so many.

In the end, it would take a lot of planning, counselling with local and state leaders, organizing by city and town recreational leaders, meetings with local baseball league boards, and a lot of effort to make this happen. I want to reiterate that I respect the orders given by local, state, and federal leaders and in no way want to go against them simply to play baseball. But if a proposal, drafted by people smarter than me, with all the necessary wording that would outline the expectations of the field rental could be drafted, and we can all do the right thing, and kids could play safely by practicing social distancing and staying compliant with CDC guidelines – it would be a beautiful glimmer of light in a mostly darkened world we are experiencing these days.

What are your thoughts and comments? Send them to me at ribaseballexperience@gmail.com or comment on my social media pages.

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