Summer Baseball League set to begin with teams from American Legion

  • Devontay Edmonds, left, of Northampton Post 28, gets a fist bump from assistant coach Mark Sienkiewicz at first after hitting a single in the first inning against Pittsfield Post 68, July, 19, 2019 at Spec Pond in Wilbraham. While the Legion season was canceled, Northampton will field a summer baseball team independent from American Legion. The summer league is expected to start games next month. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Post 28 head coach Chuck Holt coaches Nick Heafey during his at-bat in the first inning against Pittsfield Post 68, Friday, July, 19, 2019 at Spec Pond in Wilbraham. While the Legion season was canceled, Northampton will field a summer baseball team independent from American Legion. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 6/19/2020 5:47:23 PM
Modified: 6/19/2020 5:47:11 PM

Though American Legion canceled its season for the first time since 1927, baseball is still likely to happen in western Massachusetts this summer.

Coaches from various American Legion teams around the region are coordinating a 13-team Under-17 junior and 15-team Under-19 senior league that adheres to state social distancing and safety guidelines. American Legion is not affiliated in any way with these leagues.

The summer league is planning to hold a four-week, 14-to-16 game regular season once phase three begins and games can resume. Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that phase three of his reopening plan will begin no sooner than July 6.

Coaches are hoping for a playoff spanning the first week of August to account for early school and university starting dates in the fall.

For now, teams are holding practices and tryouts, staying connected with their team while respecting social distancing. Northampton coach Chuck Holt began informal workouts this week at Northampton High School.

“Because nobody’s been out playing and everything, we didn’t want to jump right into a tryout,” Holt said.

Workouts were held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, with official tryouts Saturday at Northampton High School from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. If necessary, makeup tryouts will be held on Monday and Tuesday at the same location from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Holt emphasized his excitement and encouraged anyone interested in playing this summer to come try out.

“Everybody is welcome to come and I hope that everyone does,” Holt said. “We have a lot of spots between the two teams, and if we had a travel squad or a practice squad it could be even more.”

Organizing practice hasn’t been quite as easy for other teams. As some cities haven’t opened their parks and recreational centers, some teams have had to get creative to get out on the field.

Coach Max Weir and his Easthampton squad are a prime example. Weir is in his first year taking over an Easthampton team that didn’t participate in American Legion last season due to a lack of a coach. Though the team typically practices and plays on Daley Field in Easthampton, the city hasn’t lifted restrictions on its parks.

Instead, the team is hosting informal practices and workouts at Labrie Field in Southampton. If Easthampton hasn’t lifted its park restrictions by the start of phase three, the team will continue to use Labrie into the season.

Though he’s taken over a team under unprecedented circumstances, Weir couldn’t be happier about baseball starting back up in some capacity.

“Since we didn’t have a team last year, everyone is really excited, myself included,” Weir said. “The players, families, and members of the community missed having a team in the league.”

In a few scenarios, teams are still waiting to do anything at an organized level. Greenfield, which is coached by Kyle Phelps, is one of those teams. Greenfield has yet to open up its parks and there isn’t a suitable alternative field nearby.

“It’s a lot of just waiting patiently for what city officials decide is best right now,” Phelps said.

The hope is for all teams in situations like Greenfield’s to either have their own field available or have a reasonable substitute in time for the July 6 opening. For now, keeping the athletes motivated is a key emphasis among teams.

“We’re trying to let these kids know that even though they can’t go out and play now, there will likely be baseball this summer,” Phelps said. “We’ve gotta make sure that they’re still throwing and still hitting and staying in shape.”

If the league is able to begin as scheduled on July 6, coaches and players will have to maintain a strict social distancing and health protocol throughout the season. Practice and game check-in for players include a hand sanitizing station and a list of health checkup questions from their respective coach.

After checking in, players break into groups of no more than 10 for practice scenarios, maintaining social distance or wearing masks whenever distance isn’t maintained. Players check out in the same manner they checked in at the hand sanitizing station, and equipment is cleaned after every game and practice. Coaches are required to wear masks for the duration of all practices and games.

“We spent a ton of time working out (protocols) with the Board of Health,” Holt said. “The kids are really being fantastic about complying with them, because they all know how important it is.”

Though nothing has been finalized or guaranteed yet in the league, excitement is building across the region. Even with the unique circumstances teams find themselves in this year, there’s a large hope that western Massachusetts may get to see a baseball season that looks somewhat normal.

“If everything works in a best-case scenario — and we really are on track for that — we’re going to have something very similar to what we normally have,” Holt said. “And I, the kids, and the other coaches are really excited about it.”

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