Living in New England, all of us in the Rhode Island Baseball community are accustomed to rain outs or rain delays. Sometimes, if the forecast is 50/50 for rain, coaches will elect to attempt to play. They may have their players come to the field 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour prior to game time as usual despite the threat of rain or inclement weather. Parents take their seats in the bleachers or behind home plate or along the foul line fences armed with umbrellas, ponchos, hats, and other weather protecting gear. For the players, especially youth baseball players, the weather is only a minor distraction. After all, they are running around the bases, out in the outfield, moving around, so no matter if it is 35 degrees with a wind chill factor of 20 below in April, misting in May, or scorching hot in August – they just want to play baseball.
So, here we are, May 5th. Baseball players, coaches, parents, leagues, and communities are monitoring the news, social media pages, important league websites, emails, and online meetings for any glimpse of hope that their 2020 baseball season will start. Collegiate level players, slated for the Cape Cod League, New England Collegiate Baseball League, and other local amateur leagues throughout the United States have been informed that their league has cancelled its 2020 summer season. Rhode Island Middle School and High School baseball players have been informed that their season will not happen. Youth baseball organizations are still holding out for some semblance of a season, with major national and regional tournaments cancelled. AAU programs are still updating their players and have begun to cancel traditional Memorial Day tournaments. So many cancellations to report, I have lost count.
Even with the projections that Rhode Island will soon enter Phase 1 of their “Reopening RI” plan, www.reopeningri.com, where does that leave baseball leagues, players, fans, games, and how we should proceed this summer? Baseball is played on a field, defensively, with 9 players. There is also a batter, a home plate umpire, another field umpire or two, a first base coach, a third base coach, dugouts filled with upcoming batters and defensive substitutes, more coaches, a scorekeeper, and maybe a bat boy or bat girl helping out. In the stands, there are Moms, Dads, Grandparents, siblings, cousins, neighbors, players from other teams, kids from the surrounding neighborhood on their bikes and skateboards, friends from school, community leaders, local sponsors, and other coaches scouting the game. There is a concession stand with 2 or more attendants handing out water, sunflower seeds, gum, candy, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, coffee, pizza, and hot chocolate. The average youth baseball game in the heart of competition, in terms of attendance by players, fans, and coaches, tops 100 people easily. For playoff games and tournament games, that number could soar well above 100 depending on the ball park’s seating capacity. Phase 1 is dictating that social gatherings be limited to 10 people or less. How can baseball as we know it in Rhode Island happen under Phase 1? Simply put, it will not be the same, not at the onset.
When a coach and a league checks the forecast hours before the start of a game, they work together to make an informed decision about whether to play or not. They check their reliable apps on their phones, where the concentration of green is on the weather maps, what they are hearing from other towns, etc. A group text ensues with “I think we can get the game in,” or “it’s not looking good, right now its pouring in Westerly,” or “let’s just push it until Saturday and play a double header.” If they decide to play the game and it starts to rain, they have to make more decisions about whether to keep playing, delay, or cancel the game altogether.
This is sort of what the 2020 Rhode Island Baseball season is feeling like. In March, we had the forecast of a torrential and life threatening rain storm coming to Rhode Island. By now, we have all seen the maps and the charts and the destruction in our state and other states by this storm. Our leagues have been focused on the safety of its players and fans not to get caught up in the storm and to stay home and be safe. We have listened to the advice of experts and town managers and city officials and state officials not to play outside in this storm for fear of injuring your family and other families. Our season has been living in one large, extended rain delay for close to 2 months now. And we are still in that rain delay as of today.
These decisions are not easy to make. Play or not to play. Have games or just have practices. Host tournaments or cancel them altogether. Have fans in the stands or tell parents to drop off little Stevie and Allison and go home until we text you the game is over. Open the concession stand or tell people to bring their own M&M’s this year. Take temperatures upon entering the field of play. Sanitize the baseball after each hit to the shortstop or simply throw the baseball away into the discard bucket. The questions go on and on in my head and I honestly do not know the answers to a single one of them. My hope is that safety continues to be the highest priority for those leagues that still have a shot at a baseball season in 2020. And that the Rhode Island Baseball community is consistent with its policies and procedures for players, games, fan attendance, and participation throughout the state. My hope is that this awful storm which has caused so much havoc and dismay and angst and misery will eventually pass and a glorious ray of sunshine will blanket Rhode Island baseball with warmth and positivity and enjoyment for all.
Stay safe everyone. Stay tuned to announcements from the State of Rhode Island about parks being opened.