By Madeline Rosenberg
Scoreboards lit up with balls, strikes and outs, parents cheered from behind the outfield and fly balls soared in Leonard Park.
After a canceled spring season, Mount Kisco Little League returned Saturday with some coronavirus caveats: no high-fives, no sunflower seeds, no shared baseball gear. This year’s opening day came without a parade and with six-foot markers taped to bleachers.
But players and parents were thrilled to be back after months without baseball. As storm clouds hung over the fields early in the weekend, it was the rain that delayed the baseball games this time.
Rasheen Merritt watched his 11-year-old son Ahmad warm up in the outfield for a game against the Elks Club team on Saturday afternoon. He said he was relieved that his son, who plays for the Exit 4 Food Hall squad, was back with his team.
“I feel like doing a backflip,” Merritt said before the game. “I’m just so happy and excited.”
Merritt’s excitement grew as warmup winded down; his wife, Denise DePass, was throwing the ceremonial first pitch. The Mount Kisco mayor normally hurls the first pitch on opening day, but Mayor Gina Picinich said she wanted to honor an essential worker this year.
DePass, a nurse at Greenwich Hospital, learned minutes before game time that she would throw the first pitch of the summer season that is making up for the lost spring. Merritt watched with their four-year-old daughter, who cheered for her mom from a pink camping chair.
“It’s pressure,” Merritt said of DePass’s ceremonial pitch as he smiled. “I want her to make a good pitch. She’s representing the family.”
As the Exit 4 team took the field and the Elks stepped up to bat, parents and siblings distanced across the grass in camping chairs. They wore masks and shielded under umbrellas during scattered rain showers.
Picinich said she was glad spectators were “being smart” about social distancing, instructed to scatter behind the outfield instead of watching from their usual spot near the dugouts.
Coaches have also become social distancing monitors for their teams. While the players don’t wear masks on the field, they’re required to mask up in the dugout. Coaches followed up calls to “bring it in” with “masks on!”
In between cheers, parents chatted about their children’s summer reading and caught up after months at home. Siblings played together in the grass. Teachers compared their school reopening plans while they watched their sons run the bases.
One of the parents, Audrey Weiner, said she was grateful to see the town’s commitment to making baseball happen this year. Heavy rain on Friday left Opening Day games in limbo, but Weiner said the teams got the green light about two hours before start time.
Though the league’s Major League games happened on Saturday, Minor League matches were pushed to late Sunday morning. Commissioner Bob Byrns and volunteers arrived at Leonard Park early on Saturday to rake the fields, making sure they were dry enough to play, Picinich said.
Weiner added that she was happy to reunite with people she hasn’t seen in months. But she said she misses the community spirit of the parade. Her son, who plays for the Elks, wonders what baseball will be like without high-fives and sunflower seeds. Still, she told him, “at least you get to play.”
“Everyone’s glad to be back out. I’m happy that the kids have the experience of playing again,” she said. “It’s the social connection that we’re all missing. I think we all missed people.”
Across from the Exit 4-Elks game, the M&R Deli team went up against SWGM. Parents pressed against the outfield fence, cheering “Run, go, go!” and “Nice catch!”
Eliane Fishkind cheered as her son ran for team SWGM.
“The parents are the cheering squad,” she said.
Fishkind said she was happy to have baseball back – “it keeps morale up” – but having summer Little League meant more to her. For the first time in five years, her son is spending summer at home instead of at sleepaway camp in Massachusetts. She’s glad to have him home.
“If it wasn’t [baseball], there would basically be nothing right now,” she said. “This was definitely a happy end to not having any spring sports.”
The parents weren’t the only ones happy to be back at the park. Jonathan Diorio, 12, said playing with team Exit 4 felt great, though he and some of his teammates said they don’t like wearing a mask in the dugout.
Diorio and a few teammates watched some of the remaining SWGM-M&R Deli game, after their team’s 11-1 win over the Elks. SWGM ultimately beat M&R 11-6.
Baseball is back, and Fishkind said she hopes it stays that way — wishing for no more rain during games and for the virus to remain under control in the region.
“It feels awesome,” DePass said. “We’re not stuck in the backyard. I feel a little bit of normalcy.”
This article has been updated to correct the final score of the M&R-SWGM game.