When it comes to youth baseball, Minnesota Youth Athletic Services and the Metro Baseball League have a sport in common — but often little else. They are competitors. If MYAS is like Coke, Executive Director Dawson Blanck explained, MBL is like Pepsi.
But right now they’re working together for the good of the game and the kids who play it.
Those two organizations, along with Minnesota Softball, have united with the goal of developing guidelines for kids to have a safe return to play in the two sports during the coronavirus pandemic. With the help of Dr. David Jewison at the University of Minnesota and M Health Fairview, they have come up with a phased approach for a return to play and they have sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz asking him to consider their ideas.
The hope is to get the sports going by early June, though much of what is being discussed hinges on the stay-at-home order issued by Walz. It is set to expire May 4, though Walz is expected to lay out new guidelines this week.
Other sports might find it more difficult, by their very nature, to resume. Blanck said with basketball and wrestling, the hope is to get something going this summer. At this point a good-case scenario has them pushed into July or August.
Over at the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association, Executive Director Matthew Madeira and communications director Stacy Dally said the hope is games can get started by June 1 but that could change.
Glen Andresen, executive director of Minnesota Hockey, said any events sanctioned by his organization through June have been canceled.
But baseball and softball are different from most other sports in that, for the most part, there is already a good deal of social distancing. The idea is that practices could start while observing social distancing in Phase I.
When it comes to playing games, their proposal would move the umpire from behind the plate to behind the pitcher, halfway to second base. Masks would be worn. Benches would be extended to allow for social distancing guidelines. If any fans were allowed, they would view games from the outfield, along fouls lines starting at first and third base and extending out.
Provisions are made for catchers — perhaps moving the catcher further back off the plate. Teams would be responsible for the balls and keeping them sanitary. Ditto for bats.
“We started talking about it about a week and a half ago,” Blanck said. “We kind of came to the agreement with Metro that we would share our thoughts. We thought it was in the best interests of the sport to come together.”
Kim Eul is administrator for the Metro Baseball League. He agreed with Blanck — both about the need to work together and how strange it was to do so.
“I was on the phone with one of our directors,” Eul said. “He was like, ‘Did hell freeze over?’ ”
No. But the hope is the deep freeze baseball and softball have experienced may begin to thaw.
“We hope we’ve put together a good plan,” USA Softball Minnesota Commissioner Dan Pfeffer said. “We put our best foot forward. We hope the Governor and his staff find it reasonable.”
Other groups have joined in the proposal, including the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association, which handles adult slow pitch softball.
The letter and the proposals have been sent. Next?
“Now we wait and see,” Eul said. “We hope it doesn’t take long at all. This is about getting the kids back out there.”