Currently, several states, counties, and school districts are considering how we might play baseball or fastpitch safely during a pandemic. As a mostly non-contact sport, it seems possible to play while also keeping in line with the vast majority of guidelines set to the general public.
This post isn’t to debate IF we should do such things. We’ll leave that to the depths of the internet. Instead, for those looking for ideas on how to make youth baseball and fastpitch safe we provide this list of suggestions we’ve found.
For the record, we are expressly against playing the sport rogue. That is, going against federal, state, or local guidelines to sneak in a game somewhere. If your locality expressly denies it, we wholeheartedly recommend you keep in line with their policies.
As well, those who are at risk (particularly those young players who are immunocompromised) might have no level of cautious play that would warrant their participation at the game or in the lineup.
That said, as we’ve read through every state and local guideline we can find, very few say anything in particular about youth sports. Instead, they issue general guidelines. Any mention of sports appears more directed toward significant sporting events found in college or the pros. Few state or local overviews address what a little league game on a local field might look like in any phase of the recovery.
We’ve come up with some potential Best Practices to Play Safe Baseball and Fastpitch during a pandemic. These are suggestions only. Please feel free to adapt or add to these in any way you and your league might see fit.
As well, if you have an idea, please leave it in the comments.
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Our obsession with high fives after (or before) the game could stop.
One alternative, simple enough, would be to avoid this altogether. After the game, players could line up to face the other team’s stands and bow. We think this move is ultra-classy and love it when the Korean and Japanese teams do it during the LLWS.
Fast forward his video to about 4:53.
(Note, right before they bow, they do go through the line and ‘shake’ hands.)
Believe it or not, the umpire calling balls and strikes was once behind the pitcher.
Although, as any ump would tell you, it’s harder to see up and down when behind the pitcher, it can be done somewhat competently from 10+ feet behind the pitcher.
We’re all about supporting the local league and city while catching a little league game. But, to decrease the area in which folks congregate and get rid of any potential super spreader areas, the simplest idea would be to close the snack shack.
If the league is funded in part by that snack shack activity, then charging a gate fee might make sense. But, you’d need to set up some contactless payments.
If you must keep the snack shack open, consider prepackaged food only. As well, set up some sort of contactless payment system.
Although it usually happens naturally, keeping with the same warm-up partner might make sense. Keeping the ‘germ’ buddy circle as small as possible could make good sense.
We aren’t just talking about before the game (although that’s a part of it). Consider these warm-up situations in the same pairings to keep the circle as small as possible:
We were going to watch a recorded MLB game to see how many times an average pitcher, player, or coach touched their face.
We stopped after a minute. The number of face touches during a particular game for any given player is likely in the hundreds of times.
Suffice it to say that we could dramatically keep down the number of pathogens that reach our face during a baseball game if we stopped touching it.
For coaches, that means we need to change our signs. For players, that means we might need to wear a mask if it can serve as a reminder. For umpires, wearing a a mask might make sense entirely.
Pitchers (and all players) need to keep their hands out of their mouths. For most, it is a habit borne deep into their very pitching and playing souls. Licking your fingers and a little wipe on the jersey keep the hands clean and dry to improve grip on the baseball.
If you must, you can also accomplish this with a rosin bag. These are filtered bags (imagine a coffee filter) with a powdered substance inside that wicks away moisture.
They are otherwise inexpensive with lots of options. Getting one for everyone on the team might make sense. We wouldn’t want to have a community one on the back of the mound.
It would be awkward for many, no doubt. But, it’s a small price to pay to play.
One way to keep social distancing in the dugout would be assigned seating. Maybe, size feet away in batting order. If that requires we go outside of the dugout and down the outfield fence than so be it. 12 players would need about 72 feet.
High school baseball struggles with high occupancy by putting three to four times the amount of players needed for the game in the dugout. Most coaches want the underclassman to watch the upperclassman participate. That needs to stop for this to work best.
But, if we want to keep our social circles at a minimum, it would make sense to have only the needed players in the dugout. For most games that might cap out at 11 or 12. Add a coach or two, and we shouldn’t be at more than 13 or 14 in the dugout.
If we are all in a straight line and needed 6 feet between us, then an entire team of 14 players could sit no more than 90 feet apart. It would be easy enough to set up lawn or bench-chairs that extended the length of the fence down towards the 1st or 3rd base. Considering you have one player on deck, one up to bat, and a roster of 12, you need 60 feet from head coach to the guy at the end.
If we want to socially distance, have assigned seating in the ‘dugout’ which can extend the length of the fence. Players sit in their seats until it’s their time to get in the on-deck circle.
In open little league baseball fields, separating families by several feet should be simple enough. However, if space is limited, spectators should be limited. One way to control the crows is to limit the number of fans per player. Say, two fans per player. But, some type of rotational schedule for a team might work too.
For the vast majority of high school players, in particular, they’d give up fans to play in a heartbeat. For youth ball, they’ll likely need at least one.
As well, streaming things is so easy these days. Consider setting up a YouTube channel to live stream games so that grandparents and others can watch remotely.
It will be strange to see your teammate hit a dinger and then just watch from your lawn chair down the outfield fence instead of meeting them at the plate with a fist bump. But, a small price to pay.
As well, we’ll need to stop (or dramatically limit) the mound meetings.
Sick kids shouldn’t play. The end.
One quick way to screen a bit of the sickness is out is through temperature checks. Any kid with a +2 temperature (so 100+) and they don’t get to play.
It’s likely your team or leagues have a medical professional who would be willing to volunteer to oversee this operation.
Sorry coaches. No more winded speeches about how they did or didn’t do what you ask and therefore they did or didn’t win. You’ll need to save all those post and pre-team speeches for another year.
In the end, we can play baseball with almost entirely limited contact with other people’s germs. It will take a bit of work—and require a bit of planning by league officials. But, by no means is it impossible to implement smart distancing guidelines while playing baseball or fastpitch. It’s just about the least contact of any team sport there is.
There are several ways in which we can take precautions to keep us safe on and off the field.