Youth Baseball Leagues Hold Out Hope for a Summer Season

The Mount Pleasant Wildcats 12U team are hoping they get a chance in August to compete in the Ripken Baseball tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The players have already lost the Little League and spring travel seasons.

One by one, towns across the area have been canceling summer camps. Last week, Greenburgh, Mount Pleasant, Yorktown and Cortlandt joined several other local municipalities that had already made that decision earlier in the month.

It’s a near certainty that public swimming pools won’t open until at least sometime in July, and some may not open at all this year.

With the threat that summer 2020 could be a complete washout for children because of the coronavirus pandemic, several local youth baseball leagues are trying to salvage what they can.

One of the largest operations in the area, the Greater Hudson Valley Baseball League (GHVBL), is planning for a belated start to its season. It fields about 715 teams for players eight to 23 years old from New York City through the Hudson Valley and Fairfield County, Conn. each summer.

Typically, the league begins its summer season in the first half of June and runs for about two months, said founder and league President David Zaslaw. Should the GHVBL have to wait until sometime in July to start and continue through August or have an abbreviated season, that is what it will do, he said.

Flexibility, safety and parity are the priorities this year, not the season’s length or team awards, Zaslaw said. If sunflower seeds or chewing gum must be eliminated or a larger supply of fresh baseballs are needed to keep everyone safe, the GHVBL plans to comply.

“We want the kids to get to play,” Zaslaw said. “If that means the parents need to stay in cars or be out in the outfield socially distanced six feet away from each other wearing masks, everyone is going to be fine with that just to give the kids an opportunity to play.”

While regional New York state officials are preparing this week for a limited reopening in the Hudson Valley, Zaslaw said he has noticed growing support in recent weeks to allow for youth sports, and in particular baseball, to play this summer with proper precautions. Baseball should be considered earlier for resumption because it’s not a contact sport, with natural spacing for most of its players, he said.

Zaslaw said that youth sports advocates believe that recreation should be given greater priority for health reasons. Currently, recreation is in the fourth phase of New York State’s multiphase reopening plan.

A team of a dozen select 12-year-olds from Pleasantville, Thornwood and Hawthorne who have played at Sherman Park Little League and were GHVBL 2019 spring champions as 11-year-old are hoping their latest plans won’t fizzle.

With their Little League and the GHVBL spring travel seasons canceled along with a planned weeklong tournament at Dreams Park in Cooperstown, Coach Kieran Murray said the Mount Pleasant Wildcats have scheduled a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C. to compete in a Ripken Baseball tournament in August.

Murray said he, the coaching staff and parents sought another opportunity for the boys following the Cooperstown cancellation. He’s hoping that the trip materializes while acknowledging that there are safety issues to consider.

“There’s always a concern,” Murray said. “We’re trying to be optimistic. Our team’s parents are having a discussion that baseball is something that’s more practical in sports to social distance. Whether there’s going to be a mask requirement is going to be up to the tournament league down there, but there’s always a concern there.”

Zaslaw said there are still challenges to having a season. First, guidance is needed from the state to allow the leagues to operate. Ironically, on Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state’s professional sports teams can begin training within their practice facilities, stadiums or arenas as long as precautions are followed.

Another issue is how much access there will be to municipal and school fields that the GHVBL and other leagues have largely depended on for its games, Zaslaw said. It uses a small number of private fields but those aren’t enough.

“Once the guidelines from the state says that, okay, we’re going to allow baseball to be played, the hope is schools will allow us to use their fields because that’s what makes the league go, school fields and town fields,” Zaslaw said.

Lack of field access isn’t a dealbreaker for Murray’s 12U team. Some individual players have been practicing in their backyards, hitting off a tee or playing catch with siblings or parents, he said. Murray just hopes they face no more curveballs.

“They’re all very optimistic, so I really hope that this is a go for these boys,” Murray said. “They’ve all been playing for four years, and not just because I coach them, but they truly are a great group of kids.”