It has been a very difficult year for Connecticut’s youth athletes. Winter sports cut short, spring sports canceled. So, what about summer sports?
As Connecticut approaches phase 1 of re-opening, many youth sports organizations have a simple mantra; let them play.
“It is what’s needed right now just to gain back even a small slice of normalcy,” said David Rocha.
Rocha owns Fast Pitch Nation Park, a premier softball tournament facility in Windsor. Last year his facilities hosted over 3,000 games. So far this year, none. Although youth sports have not been given permission to play May 20, Rocha has hope and a plan.
“We’ve completely changed the way we’ve handled the field,” explained Rocha, describing social distance modifications he’s implemented in hopes of being able to allow play.
Among the changes are tripled dugout space for players. Only one parent per player allowed at games and they could only watch from outside the outfield fence.
Rocha isn’t alone. Social distance modifications are being considered by youth sports organizations around the state. A group of baseball coaches and officials recently formed an alliance and have submitted a proposal to state leaders.
The proposal includes eliminating dugouts and barring players from sharing equipment. The home plate umpire would be repositioned and call pitches from behind the pitcher’s mound.
“First and foremost we’re going to follow the guidelines of Governor Lamont and his office,” said Pat Hall, one of the Baseball Alliance organizers.
The alliance also includes former Major League Player and ESPN Radio personality, Rob Dibble. Connecticut AAU Lt. Gov. Bob Hetu, New York Mets Scout Patrick Vigilio and Connecticut Rivals Baseball Director Kevin Rival are also among those in the group.
According to the alliance proposal, baseballs would be disinfected between innings, handshakes and high-fives not allowed and coaches would retrieve equipment with rubber gloves. All to give kids an opportunity to play.
Business also a driving factor. Rocha says the economic shutdown has already cost Fast Pitch Nation Park hundreds of thousands of dollars. The multi-field property hosts teams from around the northeast from April to November. To enter each tournament, teams pay a fee, a source of revenue that has not existed this year.
“We have no business that is open,” said Rocha. “It does not mean that I don’t have clamoring customers who are dying to come out and play.”
Hall is in a similar situation. He runs the Connecticut Blue Jays, one of many travel baseball teams in the state. Operating costs for teams like his are offset by player tuitions, a portion of which might need to be refunded if games are not played.
“We’ve already paid rental fees for facilities. We’ve already paid tournaments. We’ve already paid for uniforms,” all money that might not be able to recoup according to Hall.
As for tournaments, Rocha says teams are continuing to register for events. Something that gives him hope while trying to stay in the game.
“I’m fighting for my business, for my customers and for all the teams,” said Rocha. “If we don’t play this year, we’ll be gone.”