The Summer of 2020, heck 2020 in general, will always be remembered for social distancing, mask wearing, hand sanitizing, and health/safety concerns as it pertains to life, family, school, and sports. Baseball is a fantastic spectator sport, in my opinion. The sights, sounds, smells, and other enticing sensory activities at a baseball game are priceless to me. Watching a game live, watching your son/daughter pitch, hearing the cheers of a throng of fans, the smell of fresh cut grass, the crack of the bat – I can go on and on. Sure, watching a game on TV, your phone, your laptop, or whatever other device you may own is fun. But nothing like watching it live.
The Rhode Island Baseball fan has been asked to “play ball” with the safety protocols of RI Baseball leagues from Tee Ball to the Professional ranks. Major League Baseball has recently started back up and has cardboard cutouts in seats normally occupied by a mom, dad, brother, and sister who are big fans of the Sox. Minor League Baseball is not playing games this summer in any stadium, but some are being used as off site training centers for their “big club.” Again, no fans are allowed in the stadium. Collegiate baseball in Newport has been a huge success, but no fans are allowed into Cardines Field, just media. Recently, a local restaurant that is attached to right field has offered a fan experience to watch a game from the right field area.
So, as we work our way down from the Pros to youth baseball, I have found that fans are still showing up in pretty good numbers to watch games live. All of them still practicing social distancing and complying with their league’s safety protocols. The families, who are normally bunched together in the stands, in the bleachers, behind home plate are now spread out around the field. Families have found huge trees to park under. Or, a stone wall to share 6 feet apart. Or a hill overlooking the field. These families set up their camp, like at the beach, and watch the game. Sure there is still mingling and socialization going on. Families get up from their spot and go over to meet and greet other families. But, from what I have seen, families are practicing social distancing and good health practices.
In the month of July, I went to a ton of baseball games here in Rhode Island. I’m also coaching a baseball camp in my local North Kingstown area. My son is playing Senior Little League for North Kingstown Wickford. I have watched American Legion, Connie Mack, AAU Showcase events, and attended a few baseball camps. From what I have witnessed, the vast majority of players, coaches, and families are complying with social distancing guidelines, wearing masks when appropriate, and enjoying the game of baseball. July was a very hot month and wearing a mask is certainly uncomfortable to say the least. But even on a 90 degree plus day at LaSalle Academy Baseball Camp, I walked around in my mask with Coach Tom Pacia, who was also wearing a mask. His assistant coach throwing batting practice – yep you guessed it, was wearing a mask.
As we began Phase 3 of ReOpening RI in July, I wondered how the fans would react to the safety protocols and restrictions being placed upon them by our Rhode Island baseball leagues. I wondered if attendance would be down for local youth leagues, whose players/kids really need extra support in their early developmental years. One parent I spoke to in June thought the games would be more like practice or scrimmages because of the supposed lack of fans attending the game. She thought it might not seem like a “real game.” But I have to say, it has really felt like a real game. The fans are still showing up at these local youth baseball games all over Rhode Island, they are just more spread out than in years past. Fans are lining the fences and on the stone walls and under huge trees and sometimes in the parking lots and sometimes way out in center field. But, the fans have returned to watch the games, specifically the youth baseball games of Rhode Island.
I salute you, Rhode Island Baseball Fan – you wear your mask, you social distance, you cheer, you yell, you applaud, you support your players.