Young athletes in Merrick Bellmore Little League were kicking up dirt on the diamond weeks before the first pitch of the 2020 Major League Baseball season, which took place on July 23.
Baseball, softball, gymnastics and field hockey topped the list of team sports permitted to begin under social distancing guidelines as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Phase 4 reopening plan. Long Island entered that phase on July 8, and Bellmore-Merrick’s fields were immediately put to use.
“Kids were just really excited to get back playing, no matter what it took,” said Melinda Raymer, whose husband, Brandon, coaches their 11-year-old daughter, Sami’s, softball team. “It’s easy for them to social distance when they’re out in the field. The harder part is when they’re hitting and around the dugout, but they’re following the rules and having fun.”
In addition to limiting spectators to two per participating athlete, per Cuomo, MBLL President Nick Ippoliti said additional safety measures are in play, such as having the umpire work behind the pitcher instead of home plate, limiting kids in the dugout and eliminating handshakes, high-fives and sharing of equipment.
Perri Thaler-Schlechter, who has two daughters on the same softball team, Gabby, 11, and Chelsea, 8, said the sisters started playing as soon as the weather allowed in early spring, and couldn’t wait to get on the field with their friends.
“They’ve been itching to play, and it’s great they have an opportunity because many leagues weren’t able to have seasons this year,” Thaler-Schlechter said. “It’s a little tough in the heat, but it’s nice to have games not on a school night.”
Ippoliti said the league has 750 registrants. There are eight softball teams spread over two age groups and five baseball divisions separated by age group, plus tee ball. The most popular division this summer is 7U baseball with 11 teams.
Steven Scher, an assistant coach on his son Adam’s 8U baseball team, said while the heat has been a factor, extra water breaks has helped everyone cope. “Days like today when it’s hot presents another challenge, but I think the kids are doing a great job,” Scher said last Saturday during a game at Reinhard Elementary School. “We haven’t had to remind them too often to wear their masks.”
Parents and guardians of registered athletes received a “Return to Play” handbook in June with instructions and recommendations like 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.
North Bellmore-North Merrick Little League President Craig Kute said its season will start on Aug. 1 with a likely 10-game regular season followed by playoffs. He expects the season to conclude in mid-Sept.