Baseball – Last Dance Tournament Closer to Reality, At Least 35 Shore Teams Involved
The Last Dance Tournament started as a detailed vision of baseball in July for high-school players who missed out on their spring season.
After more details from the governor's office emerged on Monday, the statewide baseball tournament is another significant step closer to becoming a reality.
Tournament creator and St. Joseph of Metuchen head coach Mike Murray hosted a virtual meeting for the tournament's coaches Monday night and laid out updated details, according to a report by NJ Advanced Media.
The tournament was initially proposed to begin on July 7 but is now operating with a target date of July 14. The NJSIAA is prohibiting high school coaches from in-person contact with their players until July 13 at the earliest, so the tournament start date was pushed back one week to give coaches a chance to be a part of the first day of games.
Players, however, will be allowed to practice starting on June 22, although with baseball being classified as a "moderate risk" sport by both the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and Governor Phil Murphy echoing that standard on Monday, teams will not be able to stage normal, full-contact practices until June 6. Teams will also have to conduct practices either with players only or with coaches who are not affiliated with the high-school program in order to honor the NJSIAA's no-in-person-contact rule.
According to an update from NJ Advanced Media reporter Joe Zedalis on Tuesday, more than 300 teams have submitted an interest form and the deadline to submit a form will be Wednesday. At least 35 teams from Monmouth and Ocean Counties have shown interest by submitting a form.
The goal of the Last Dance Tournament is to keep rosters as close to what they would have been during the high-school season and to give the seniors on those teams a chance to play at least three more games. The tournament will open with pool play, with pools of between four and six teams and teams playing three games each to determine which 16 will advance to the single-game elimination tournament.
NJ Advanced Media reported four professional ballparks are in play as hosts sights for the four single-elimination rounds: Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater and Skyland Stadium in Augusta (Sussex County).
The tournament would be run by the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) and all players would be required to sign a special COVID-19 waiver. Murray said there are plans in place to have athletic trainers and site managers at each site throughout the state and temperatures will be taken of every player and coach prior to the game. Anyone with a temperature of 101.1 or higher will be sent home, according to the NJ Advance Media report.
Players on the field will not be required to wear masks but it would be recommended that coaches and players in the dugouts wear them.
The pools - which will be designed to include teams all within close proximity to one another - are expected to be released on June 22.