Little League has been as predictably popular summer after summer in Charlestown that it can become like a summer job to those heavily involved in organizing the league or coaching the kids.
Numbers have increased significantly at all the ranks over the years, but this year is different, and with COVID-19 restrictions having been in place for months – and just lifted for Little Leagues in Boston on Monday – no one in Charlestown was exactly sure what to expect.
They tread cautiously on the subject, did several surveys, talked amongst the Board on safety procedures and finally felt like they could pull off a summer season. Starting on Monday night, the kids took the field for their first sports event since March – and it was a hit.
League President Cathy Reese said they didn’t think they would have huge numbers, but they were pleasantly surprised with the sign-ups. There are 32 kids in the Majors division and 22 in the AAA Division. The younger ranks are not being held this year, and typically the bulk of the season is in the spring and early summer – concluding around Independence Day.
“It’s just really refreshing to see them all out there,” said Reese on Monday at Ryan Field – after distributing uniforms and special Townie facemasks. “We’ve all been cooped up since mid-March. It’s great to have them out there doing something we would normally do in the summer and getting fresh air…The numbers are higher than I expected and higher than our usual summer ball numbers for the Mayor’s Cup and City League.”
For some of the older kids, the abbreviated summer season is the end of the road for their Little League experiences. Many had high hopes for winning districts and maybe going all the way to the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania. All of that, however, has been cancelled this year – so it really is only about having fun outside with friends more than competing for trophies or championships.
“The 12 year olds age out of Little League this year and they did lose out,” she said. “There is no district and no tournaments. This is their last chance for Little League, so it is kind of sad they lost out on that experience.”
Majors Coach Greg Poole said there was a lot of planning and execution required just to feel safe about having the kids go out and take fielding practice – which took up the bulk of the evening on Monday.
For many, it was their first journey out into public for a youth sport or a congregate activity, so Poole said they left no stone unturned. Safety was paramount, and they discussed how to sanitize the ball, how to run the bases safely, how to handle equipment and everything in between.
“It’s great to get them out there again,” Poole said. “Everybody needed to get out and enjoy this. At the same time, safety is paramount and we’ll take all of the precautions and try to teach the kids what they can and can’t do now. That’s difficult. We didn’t think this year we’d the numbers to have this, but it’s great we did. If they can do it safely, have fun, and not having anyone get sick, then that’s great.”
Poole said kids on the teams have to stay six feet apart, so that means the dugout camaraderie this year is out. They must wear masks when not playing, though they can put their face coverings down when in the field. At bat, though, they must wear a face covering and also while running the bases.
Hand sanitizer is stationed everywhere, and kids must use their own equipment that is assigned to them. There is no sharing bats, gloves or batting helmets.
It all sounds like a tremendous amount of rules and regulations that could get in the way of having fun.
It wasn’t the case Monday night, as kids were jazzed up, smiling and happy to have what little season they could get.
“It’s a different world and there’s no game plan for us to follow,” said Poole. “It’s a risk, but we see the data and I think we’re doing something right. We all met and believed we could do this safely.”
Added Reese, “The kids feel safe. They want to play, and they want to be out. Even with school, my son wanted to go to school, which is very interesting. They’re tired of being inside and sitting around with their parents.”