WESTFIELD – No one has stepped foot in the batter’s box at Bullens Field since late last year but if the pandemic gripping much of the nation continues to ease, one city ball club may soon take flight.
The Westfield Starfires continue to make preparations for a tentative July 1 opening day, Starfires founder and co-owner Chris Thompson announced Monday.
Thompson met with owners of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League via conference call late Friday to discuss details surrounding the league.
“I think the vasty majority of people are ready to get out there,” Thompson said in an exclusive interview with The Westfield News. “People are looking for some hope right now.”
Current plans call for a reduced 40-game season versus the previously scheduled 56. Each team would play 20 home games under the revised schedule. The Westfield Starfires had originally been slated to the take the field May 28.
“We are looking forward to getting out there, hearing the crack of the bat like you do during spring training in Florida,” Thompson said.
Starfires officials have been in contact with Gov. Charlie Baker’s coronavirus task force on economic development to get a better understanding of what a Phase 3 reopening in late June would look like. According to Thompson, players could practice in advance of opening day.
The Nashua (N.H.) Silver Knights and New Britain (Conn.) Bees have already reached agreement from local officials to begin on-field operations. The remaining five teams, each from Massachusetts – – the Westfield Starfires, Brockton Rox, Worcester Bravehearts, Pittsfield Suns, and North Shore Navigators – – are all awaiting the green light from their municipalities to begin.
“The well-being of players, fans and staff is our priority right now,” Thompson said.
The Westfield Starfires have already developed a COVID-19 readiness plan to open Bullens Field, Thompson explained. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines will be enforced, he said.
That may include temperature checks for all players and employees, making hand sanitizer and antiviral sprays available to players and staff, limiting restroom occupancy, installing new signs with safety guidelines, and enforcing social distancing measures, not only in the bleacher section but also in the beer garden and standing room areas. It has not been determined by state or local officials yet whether or not seating capacity will be restricted. The Starfires will also limit cash transactions, urging fans to purchase advance tickets online to secure their seats.
“It’s going to be a family decision or individual decision whether people travel or go to the beach,” Thompson said. “We are going to provide a safe environment for the community to escape for 2-3 hours.”
Starfires officials are expected to meet with city leaders this week to discuss plans to go forth with a shortened season.
Without the ability for host families to house out-of-state players due to federal, state, and local coronavirus guidelines, the Westfield Starfires have extended invites to players from the Boston and Hartford areas, some of whom were expected to play in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
The Cape Cod League and New England Collegiate Baseball League, which includes the Valley Blue Sox, of Holyoke cancelled their respective 2020 seasons over coronavirus concerns.
An updated roster for the Westfield Starfires is planned for later this month.
“We always planned on playing by July 4th weekend,” Thompson said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Futures League Commissioner Joe Paolucci continues to express optimism publicly for a 2020 season, noting that “all scenarios and contingencies are under consideration.”
“We remain hopeful,” Paolucci said recently. “As soon as we have clarity on guidelines and procedure for playing baseball, we will look to adapt and begin.”