Game On? Little League offers ‘best practices’ for return as St. J, Lyndon preparing to play ball

Lyndon players, from left, Cam Dwyer, Ethan Lussier, Wyatt Mason, Cannon Fillion, Brady Gervais, and Tyler "T-Bone" Montgomery huddle up after a 13-3 win over Mad River in 2017. Little Leagues in Lyndon and St. Johnsbury are preparing to play ball in June. (Photo by Paul Hayes)

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Little League is offering youth baseball organizations a path forward as they eye a restart amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization released a series of “best practices” guidelines this week that highlight how to create a safe playing environment whenever state and local authorities give youth sports in a given area the the all clear to restart.

Last month Little League canceled the 2020 Little League World Series and other championships because of the pandemic, but remains hopeful a regular season may still be possible.

Locally, leagues in St. Johnsbury and Lyndon are still preparing to play ball.

St. Johnsbury Baseball and Softball sent out an email Monday communicating they still plan to have a full season — beginning practices on or around June 1 with games to follow on the week of June 15. St. J is postponing opening-day festivities and instead will have an end-of-season celebration in late July.

“The board is working to develop plans to keep everyone as safe as possible while at the ballfield,” said league president Todd Smith. “Those plans will be communicated prior to the time we take the fields.”

Lyndon Youth Baseball and Softball president Jen Mitchell said on Friday, “We are moving forward with our season, just waiting for the governor to lift restrictions. We have no dates until it’s lifted. We can’t plan until we know what it will look like.”

Both leagues are waiting until Gov. Phil Scott makes the decision to allow gatherings to go from 10 people to 25.

Little League president Stephen Keener, meanwhile, said during a roundtable discussion hosted by Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania on Thursday that it compiled the outline after consulting with medical professionals and receiving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, among others.

While Keener stressed the decision will ultimately be made by each family, he believes it was important to show parents that playing “can be done, we think as safely as possible … if you follow these guidelines.”

The recommendations include eliminating all non-essential contact and banning the postgame handshake line in favor of lining up along the respective baselines and tipping caps to opponents.

All players should wear masks while in the dugout and coaches and volunteers should wear masks and protective medical gloves at all times, the guidelines said. Players should also be separated by six feet while in the dugout or in the stands and the shared use of equipment is prohibited when possible. Umpires would move from behind home plate to behind the pitcher’s mound and game balls would be switched out every two innings.

Concession sales would also be prohibited. So would ballpark staples like sunflower seeds and spitting. The recommendations also include limiting the amount of family members allowed into a facility to watch games.

Toomey said he would sign his 10-year-old son up for baseball “tomorrow” because he believes it can be done safely.

“I think it is time that we begin resuming normal life,” Toomey said.

The best practices were released a week after Major League Baseball put together a 67-page proposal outlining how it could conceivably return to play this year.

SEEKING HELP

St. J Baseball and Softball is asking that anyone that can, to please donate no-contact thermometers; disposable masks and gloves; sanitizer; and any type of spray disinfectant to clean the equipment before and after use. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Items can be dropped off in a box, placed on the steps of the Caledonian-Record on Federal Street.

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