The Rhode Island baseball community at large has been waiting anxiously for the start of the 2020 baseball season. Opening Days have been postponed due to Executive Orders by local, state, and federal government leaders. Cancellation announcements from American Legion Baseball, Little League International, the Cape Cod League, and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League have flooded our email inboxes, social media pages, and text messages in recent weeks. Local and state parks are all but closed for activity and are being monitored for gatherings over 5 people. Baseball players of all ages are being asked to stay home, stay safe, not to assemble in large groups, and keep the faith that the 2020 baseball season will happen at some point.
I propose a sign of faith, a sign of hope, a sign of promise for our Rhode Island baseball players. I propose a Rhode Island Opening Day, 2020 where 50, 60, 100 baseball parks can be the stage. I propose a statewide commitment, once the Governor and her advisors allows for it, to open up baseball, virtually, on a specific date in the near future. Every league, even high schools, middle schools, Tee Ball division up to the Majors, host a virtual Opening Day – again keeping with the orders of the Governor regarding safe distancing, socially responsible social distancing, and keeping the safety of others as the highest priority. Here is how it may lay out for the 2020 Rhode Island Baseball Virtual Opening Day Celebration.
First step, commit to having a 2020 baseball season. Your league is your league. If your league’s board of directors votes to cancel your entire season, the decision is yours and not to be questioned or ridiculed by anyone. You and your board members need to do what is right for your specific league. However, if you commit to having a season, modifying the schedule from an April start to say, a June start, this is the first step in the process of having an Opening Day. If you are going to have a season, it is only right to have an Opening Day, the national anthem to be played, the first pitch to be thrown out, and so on.
Next, organize with your board members regarding preparing the field. In groups less than 5, and potentially creating a schedule of “workers” for field prep, get over to the fields. Hang banners, rake the foul lines, line the batter’s box and foul lines. If your town or city mows the lawn, connect with them to mow the outfield, infield, and field areas. Spray paint your logo into the grass or use the push cart line marker to write your league’s logo into the field somewhere. Remove the tarps from the mound, the batter’s box area, and other sections of the field. Do a sweep of the field, clean up any leaves, debris, garbage and make the field look District All Star presentable. Show your league pride and make your field look as amazing as it does every Saturday for your home games.
If you have a press box with a PA system, go and test it out. If not, a wireless microphone may be an option. Have a volunteer or a league representative or an active player set up behind home plate with a cell phone camera or video taping device. Head out onto the field and do a dry run of an Opening Day ceremony speech. Welcome families, acknowledge board members, recognize sponsors, announce any potential park openings or league announcements, be genuine and uplifting and welcome everyone to Opening Day. It maybe hard to do, but act like there are 1000 people in the stands, not 5. Video tape it and watch it for clarity, check the audio for sound quality, and run through a few takes.
Vote on a Opening Day National Anthem artist. Years ago, I had the thrill of a lifetime when my oldest son, Spencer, performed the National Anthem for Opening Day at my local North Kingstown/Wickford Little League’s Wilson Park on his guitar. You can play a recording or have a live artist – vocalist, saxophone player, guitar player – play the anthem live. Personally, I am partial to live music but the recording is 100% acceptable of course.
Involve a player or set of players to video the entire ceremony. Kids these days know how to use their cameras for videos, they know how to produce them, edit them, publish them, share them, etc. Get your social media page or your website set up for a live streaming video to capture the events of your virtual Opening Day. Utilize a league board member who is in charge of PR or IT or marketing to help promote the event to your entire league family. Set a time for people to log onto your page and view the ceremony.
From there, organize the actual day. Include the local police and fire departments to provide an escort for the small group involved in the virtual Opening Day. The police can also monitor the activity of the park to make sure people are being compliant with local and state orders for social distancing. Have someone videotape a staged processional into your baseball park area, parking lot area, leading up to the Opening Day field. Keep everyone at least 6 feet apart, maybe in the dugouts, or in the bleachers. For example, if you plan on bringing up guest speakers, have them wait away from the league’s master of ceremonies until they are called up. Have the artist performing the national anthem wait in the dugout or outside the field. Bring people up one at a time and maintain social distancing. Get all of this on video from behind home plate or behind the back stop or in right field or on the third base side or possibly in the press box area.
Then, do your Opening Day speech. Welcome the community to the 2020 season. Bring out the artist to perform the National Anthem or just play the anthem over a PA system. Bring out any local community leaders, board members that are not camera shy, local and/or state representatives, parents, but keep it under the guidelines of social distancing and within the allotted number of gatherers. Have someone throw out the first pitch, maybe just to the backstop if you want to be 1000% safe (no catcher). Finish up with any announcements your league needs to make regarding starting practices, games, uniform ordering, etc. The whole ceremony may take 5, 10, maybe 15 minutes tops. But the positive ripple effects will last an entire season, I promise.
Pack up the equipment, head back to your cars, and go home. Sanitize any areas touched by hands, especially common areas. By having Opening Day online and not having a large gathering, you and your league are being compliant with local and state executive orders. And it will relight the fire that baseball will indeed happen in 2020.
What are your thoughts? Can this be a reality? A Virtual Opening Day Ceremony for Rhode Island baseball??? I propose that we do it. Thoughts and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.