Local sports leagues aim to play ball

WESTFIELD – Play ball?
On Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a four-phase plan to reopen the state, clearing the way for recreational and outdoor activities, and sporting events to resume gradually this spring and summer.
Beginning May 25 (Phase 1), parks; beaches; parks; drive-in theaters; some athletic fields and courts; many outdoor adventure activities; most fishing, hunting and boating activities; and outdoor gardens, zoos, reserves and public installations can open with guidelines.

Westfield Babe Ruth and Little League organizations, and the Westfield Starfires are each aiming to play in summer 2020, following Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s announcement Monday regarding a four-phase opening of the state despite coronavirus concerns. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

About three weeks after that, campgrounds, playgrounds and spray parks, public and community pools, and all athletic fields and courts (with guidelines) can open, and youth sports (in limited fashion) can begin.
In roughly six weeks (Phase 3), additional activities, including  youth sports with games and tournaments (all with restrictions of some sort) will be allowed. Crowd sizes will be limited.
“Ultimately all of these decisions are going to be made on a local level,” Westfield Starfires co-owner Chris Thompson said. “It’s local teams like Starfires baseball and local youth teams like Babe Ruth and Little League that bring this community together, but we have to be smart about it.”
Thompson had a conference call with fellow Futures Collegiate Baseball League owners Monday to discuss details regarding plans to hold a condensed season this summer.
“We are optimistic that we can salvage a season for student-athletes who have already lost so much,” Thompson said. “We are working on a stadium plan to reassure fans that safety is our top priority.”
According to new state guidelines, seating capacity may be limited to 25 percent.
Thompson said his organization is considering revising his roster by sending out invites to players from the Cape Cod League, which shut down for the summer due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. The Starfires are open to players commuting from Boston or Hartford, if allowed.
“Each franchise is working with municipalities and their guidelines,” Thompson said. The Futures League consists of teams from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
“It will be another scramble but we aren’t reinventing the wheel,” said Thompson, whose team completed a successful inaugural season in 2019. “We’re pretty productive on the fly.”
Thompson said the Starfires will continue to further its partnerships with Little League and Babe Ruth, taking into account social distancing practices with events planned during the season.

Bullens Field, which is home to the Westfield Starfires and Babe Ruth in the summer months, may see crowds (with limited seating capacity) if baseball returns soon. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

“It is still our intent and our focus to have a regular season for all of our kids,” said Greater Westfield Babe Ruth Baseball League President Dan Welch, whose league’s players are between the age of 13-16. “When we decide to so something, we will do it on the basis for all of our kids according to the protocols of the state and with social distancing measures in place.”
Babe Ruth is planning on a 12-15 game regular season, all capped off with a City Cup at season’s end.
“Now that the states have guidelines, we can put it on the calendars,” Welch said. “I think kids are going to want to be back on the ballfields.”
Welch said there will be plenty of flexibility built into the schedule to allow as many kids as possible to play baseball. The biggest question is – if they build it, will they come?
Several communities have already canceled Little League for the 2020 season, including Gateway, Southampton, Easthampton, Amherst, Northampton, Belchertown, and Longmeadow. Westfield is the only city or town in District 2 that still plans to go forward with games this season.
“There’s a reason we are still standing,” Westfield Little League Baseball/Softball President Scott LaBombard said. “We have awesome support from a great group of people.”
LaBombard said the safety of players and fans will be of the utmost priority. “We’re encouraged, but we know it is still a long road,” he said. “We’re trying to give the kids something.”
Westfield sports organizations will be working with the local health department and city’s parks and recreation department to devise a plan that adheres to state and local guidelines.
More details are expecting in the coming days.

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