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ROBIN SHORT: Still more questions than answers for sports in pandemic times

There are plans for minor baseball in St. John’s and Mount Pearl this summer but just when that might start is still up in the air amid continuing COVID-19 concerns and restrictions. — File photo
There are plans for minor baseball in St. John’s and Mount Pearl this summer but just when that might start is still up in the air amid continuing COVID-19 concerns and restrictions. — File photo

There will be minor baseball played in St. John’s and Mount Pearl this summer, and the programs will include, once again, lively house league play involving hundreds of youngsters.

Just when they answer the call to “Play ball!” is anyone’s guess.

The province earlier this week was placed at Alert Level 3, as a further easement of public health measures allowed many stores and businesses to reopen to the public in these pandemic times.

Medium-risk outdoor recreational activities could also resume, namely sports. However, spectators must maintain physical distancing.

However, the president of Mount Pearl minor baseball said the Level 3 status and its impact on minor baseball is, “more of a delay than anything as opposed to the actual return to competition, which is not supposed to start until Level 2.

“Our question is when is Level 2 starting?” asked Brian Hunt.

After announcing Level 3 status, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, suggested there could be movement toward the next alert level — Level 2 — sooner than expected.

For people like Hunt and others who administer sports programs, that’s welcomed news.

“At Level 3, you can run practices, all-star tryouts, but there’s no competition at Level 3” Hunt said. “There’s nothing competitive, whether it’s all-star or house league.”

Hunt said there is still some confusion over how the programs will be run this summer.

He said Baseball Newfoundland and Labrador has submitted its plans to municipalities, but the problem is each are looking for different requirements, “and nobody is on the same page.

“Mount Pearl is coming up with different things, St. John’s is coming up with different things, C.B.S. is different again.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen when we get to Tricom competition, where we actually do an interlocking league. If we have one set of rules, St. John’s has another set of rules, we’re not sure how that will actually work out.”

“We’re still waiting on direction in terms of what Level 2 is going to look like,” said St. John’s Minor Baseball Association executive director Kristyn Coley. “Last week’s announcement only addresses sports during the Level III phase, which again adds to confusion because now people are like, ‘we can’t do any competition.’

“But again, we’re not expecting that at Level 2, from what we’ve heard. But we don’t know. We’ve done lots of planning, but it’s been a really long waiting game.”

Whenever play resumes, Hunt doesn’t foresee a big affect on the ball field. In Mount Pearl, organizers originally considered no stealing of bases, instituting a commitment line to home plate, and maybe having umpires catching.

“But none of this doesn’t seem to be an issue so much as congregating around the ball field (and social distancing),” he said.

“Because if they’re allowing us to play, they’re allowing us to play. There’s no way you can physically distant sport. It’s not going to happen. Some sports are different than others. Golf for example. But we’re not a contact sport. We could have an entire game where no kid touches another, except for a high five in the dugout.”

There is consideration being given to not permitting players in the dugouts, but rather gathering within safe distances outside the ball field’s fence. And shared catcher’s equipment, for example, will have to be wiped down frequently.

“There doesn’t seem to be a problem with me throwing a ball to you, and you throwing it back to me.

“But it’s all about how you can’t share equipment. Well, I have T-ball going on, 10 bats for 60 kids. What’s the difference in them handling a ball or a bat?

“But, again, we don’t know exactly what they want because the city is not coming to us and saying we want this, this, this and this.

“So if they’re not willing to put any input in this, whatever we put in it should be a go in my mind.”

Again, Hunt won’t know until if and when Level 2 is reached. He would like to see the Mount Pearl program under way by July 6, “which would fall in line with that (Level 2).

“But considering the delays with government, the city with Baseball NL, that’s high on the wish list. It could be a week later.

“If so, we’ll drive the season into September. We always start competition the first of July anyway. If it’s two weeks late, we’ll go two weeks later.”

At least St. John’s and Mount Pearl will operate programs this summer.

Coley says she understands there are some minor baseball associations which cannot financially commit to operating programs this year.

“The cost is astronomical to what it usually is,” she said.

“There are financial implications that come with what’s being asked of us to do,” she said. “We are limiting people at field by taking less registrations. Hygene equipment (sanitizers and PPE for people who are cleaning the ball fields) have to be provided, and this is a year in which we already lost some major financial programming.”

Large junior high and high school tournaments, “which have been very helpful (financially) to us” were recently cancelled, and federal grant funding is down for most associations.

“We’re capping registration to ensure our programs are safe and lower numbers come of that,” Coley said. “Right now, we’re trying to figure out what our responsibility is in all of this, and the municipality is trying to figure out what our responsibility is in all of this.

“We’re not public health. I don’t feel it’s my role to make decisions on what is safe for kids and what is not. I’m looking for guidance in that area.”

Still, St. John’s minor has made the decision to keep costs the same (as last season).

“We’ve actually lowered them in certain areas,” she said. “We want kids back on the ball field.

“We’re in a holding pattern. To add in all the waiting, and figure out what we’re going to do next and knowing what to do next, has been very difficult.”

Both Mount Pearl and St. John’s will conduct AAA all-star tryouts in the various minor age groups in the event Baseball NL opts to stage provincial all-star play this summer.

However, Baseball Atlantic has decided to cancel the 2020 Atlantic championships.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. Email Follow him on Twitter: @telyrobinshort


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