Little League Baseball in Ocean County looks different, feels the same
When the Covid-19 coronavirus was hitting its peak in March, April and May it was hard to even think about the possibility of any sport being played at all this year.
Here we are in mid-July and sports have found their way back to us including Little League baseball.
Games have been underway for nearly two weeks now in Ocean County's District 18 Little League and much of the proposed health and safety guidelines have taken shape with masks, social distancing and hand sanitation leading the charge.
There are 3-4 players in the dugout waiting to bat with the rest of the team sitting on the bleachers and remaining socially distant until they become the on-deck or in-the-hole hitter.
Umpires are calling balls and strikes behind the pitchers mound and coaches are wearing masks and keeping a distance.
Players and coaches also have to fill out a questionnaire before leaving the house and heading to the field.
So far, at 8 of the 11 leagues within District 18 who are playing a season right now (Lacey, Barnegat and Stafford opted to not play a season while Beachwood-Pine Beach, Brick, Berkeley, Holbrook, Jackson, Lakewood, Manchester, Toms River Little League and Toms River East Little League have opted to play), there's been compliance to the new rules for 2020 and District 18 Administrator Frank Trenkle is hoping things stay that way.
"I've gone around and visited my leagues and they're all following the procedures and people are wearing masks," Trenkle told the Shore Sports Network. "When coaches need to speak to the umpires or get into a confrontation, which we hope doesn't happen too often, but if it does happen they have to put their mask on and follow our rules and if they don't follow our rules, we have a feeling there's going to be a problem...we don't want that to be, but everybody is doing what they're supposed to be doing."
In his visits to each league and with their presidents, Trenkle has heard and seen compliance across the board and a willingness to follow the rules to ensure safety and be able to play some games.
"There's been no hesitation, there's been no issues so far, nothing has come to me about any issues regarding masks or big crowds at games," Trenkle said. "Parents are doing the right thing as well, they're social distancing, they're staying away and keeping their distance from the players and other people at the games."
At Toms River East Little League, President Paul Mika explains that their youngest divisions are not playing a season this year but the 7-8 year old Division, their AAA Division, Major League Division, Junior and Senior Divisions are all taking the field this summer ready to adjust to the new rules in place at TRELL.
"It's definitely a new normal. We have coaches who anytime they're near the children, they are to wear a mask. For our dugouts on the smaller fields, we have 3 kids in the dugouts and the rest of the kids are outside the fence social distancing," Mika told the Shore Sports Network.
With the guidelines in place, Mika explains that everyone is glad to be back at the ballfields this summer.
"The coaches are excited, the kids are excited and more importantly the players are so excited and it's given them life," Mika said. "It's great to see all the faces around the complex smiling and being happy and seeing kids play again. The coaches love being here, they're like little kids out here, they were dying to get back and were waiting for all these restrictions to be lifted and they're here every night. It's great."
Following the regular seasons being played right now, there will be a District 18 tournament for every division that will lead into sectionals and a state tournament in September.
"It will be a double elimination tournament for the Districts and that'll be it for most divisions because the state is only going to be running sectional and state tournaments for the Little League Division (10-12 year olds) and the Senior League Division (13-16 year olds) because those are the two leagues that are the most affected by Little League (International) shutting down the Regionals and the World Series this year," Trenkle said. "Everybody knows the Little League Division is your dream as a kid and then the Senior League Division because the kids are aging out and that's it for them, so they wanted to give them a state tournament."
For the District Tournament, only Little League & Senior League Baseball will move on to Sectionals. All other divisions end at the District level.
The winner of the District 18 Tournament goes into the Section 3 Tournament playing District winning teams from Monmouth, Mercer and Middlesex Counties.
District 18 will play host for 3 of the 4 state tournaments.
"We're going to have the Little League Baseball Tournament and the Little League Softball Tournament out in Jackson at Holbrook Little League and we're going to have the Senior League Baseball Tournament on the most beautiful field that we have in the whole district at Leiter Field in Berkeley which is absolutely gorgeous," Trenkle said. "We're going to give the kids the best show we can possibly give them this year."