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Little Leagues get OK to "Play Ball"

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While Major League Baseball owners and players continue to squabble over compensation to get a shortened 2020 season off the ground, there’s excitement at the Little League level after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced some youth sports could begin in early July as part of the Phase Three reopening in counties that qualify.

“Young people can engage in sports [with] two spectators per child, so that’s another step toward return to normalcy,” Cuomo said during a June 14 press conference.

Baseball, softball, gymnastics, field hockey, cross country and crew will be allowed once Phase Three begins, which, in Nassau County is expected to start on July 6. Typically, Little League baseball and softball seasons begin during the first week of April.

In mid-March, the Little League International Board of Directors advised programs across the country to delay their seasons until at least May 11 due to Covid-19. Despite that timeframe increasing week by week, North Bellmore-North Merrick Little League President Craig Kute said he never lost hope.

“Everyone on our board was patient and positive,” said Kute, who coaches all three of his sons’ (Alex, 10, Nicholas 8, and Logan, 5) teams. “We only had about 10 percent of people request a refund,” he added. “We’re still at about 525 kids and we’ve reopened registration. We’re excited to get started and to see the kids play the sport they love most.”

Kute said North Bellmore-North Merrick would start play on Aug. 1, with a likely 10-game regular season followed by playoffs. He expects leagues to conclude in mid-September.

In addition to limiting spectators, Kute said additional safety measures will be taken, including the umpire working behind the pitcher instead of behind home plate. The league will also limit the number of kids in the dugout, prohibit handshakes, hi-fives or sharing of equipment and provide each kid with their own personal bottle of hand sanitizer.

The next step is to secure as many of the fields the league is used to having; Kute said he expects to have a clearer picture of the situation next week.

“This is a baseball town,” Kute said after the initial shutdown. “My kids have been practicing in the yard and itching to play, and I know they’re not alone.”

The Merrick Bellmore Little League will get going soon after Phase Three begins, President Nick Ippoliti said. “July 8 is our tentative date for the first games,” he said. “We’ve had that date in mind for quite a while since it was the original anticipated date for Phase Four.”

The league has more than 700 kids registered for the season, which will consist of 10 to 12 games over a six-week span. “We probably won’t be able to make up rainouts for the most part,” Ippoliti said.

Parents and guardians of registered kids were all sent a “Return to Play” handbook with instructions and recommendations, including pre-game and in-game safety measures, Ippoliti said.

Little League International, which operates more than 6,500 programs in 84 countries, also posted a season resumption guide on its website, www.littleleague.org.