Despite significant restrictions on most sports under Governor Baker’s phased reopening plan, baseball and softball are in the unique position of being able to still play games due to their status as moderate contact sports. Both Halifax Youth Baseball and Halifax Youth Softball have moved forward with their summer seasons after having cancelled the spring seasons due to the pandemic.
The Express spoke with the president of both leagues, Pete Barone who has been involved with youth sports in Halifax for more than 24 years.
The boards of both leagues felt that it would be too difficult to ask the youngest players to follow strict safety guidelines so they decided to move forward with those in third through seventh grade playing in the softball league and those in fourth through sixth grade in the baseball league. An instructional baseball session was recently added for third graders on Sunday mornings. Barone was pleased with the level of interest at the instructional level, saying 23 boys had already signed up to play. In addition to the younger players, there is a baseball team known as the Major Team made up of seventh graders who play against Kingston, Marshfield, Duxbury, and Pembroke. Barone said that participation is down by about 10 to 15 percent for baseball but that the numbers for softball have been consistent with past years.
Plympton also has a number of kids participating in both the Halifax baseball and softball leagues. Barone said that the inclusion of the Plympton players and parents makes the program better for everyone. “It works out great. The kids all get to know each other before going to middle school; we have a couple of excellent volunteers and coaches,” he explained.
Barone also serves as president of the South Shore Softball League as well. As a result of his involvement in that league, he said he felt comfortable moving forward with the girls competing against the other towns. Sacrifices do have to be made, however, including the cancellation of the largest girls’ softball tournament in the South Shore known as the Summer Smash which has taken place in August since 2005.
“We have done extensive work in setting up safety guidelines for games and practices, not only for the players, but for families and spectators that come to watch the games,” Barone said. While players are not required to wear masks, all coaches are required to wear them. Barone said that many players elect to wear them to and from the field removing them only while playing. He pointed out the sometimes oppressive heat as a deterrent for wearing them while playing. There are designated areas at each of the complexes telling parents and other spectators where they can sit as well as brightly colored signs that encourage social distancing.
Other safety protocols include limiting the dugout to only three players at a time who are spaced out from one another. Orange dots have also been painted outside the dugout at six-foot intervals indicating to kids where they should stay throughout the duration of the game. The girls have red buckets with their names on them that get carried to one of the dots, turned upside down, and designated as their spot for the game.
Players are not allowed to share equipment and must use separate bats, gloves, and helmets. Barone said that coaches are equipped with disinfectant as well as hand sanitizer. He said they regularly clean the bucket of balls as well as the handles of bats. Players are lined up for a spritz of hand sanitizer at the end of games as well. “The coaches are all getting into a good little rhythm with it,” Barone said of the new guidelines. Barone said he was very proud of the other coaches involved saying it was difficult to implement these new protocols while also coaching. “I’m very proud of what everyone has been doing and God knows these kids need it.”
Without naming names, Barone did say that some of the other towns have not been as organized in their attempts to maintain distancing and disinfecting. He cited issues such as crowding in the dugouts. “You can only concern yourself with our own kids,” Barone explained.
Fall baseball and softball will begin in September and will include some of the younger grades not playing during the summer. Barone said that while he respects the opinion of those caregivers who don’t feel comfortable letting their children play, he hopes to show people how safely everything has been set up and wants to stress the efforts being made by coaches and staff to enforce all safety measures. He said he hopes to be an example to other sports as they eventually begin to allow for participation in some manner.