by Terry Rogers
On June 8, the State of Delaware, through the Division of Small Business, released guidelines for youth sports, including baseball, that would allow them to resume competition on June 15. According to Dr. Karol Rattay, Director of Public Health, leaders spent months putting together regulations that would allow medium-risk sports to begin in Phase II.
In order for youth to play baseball or softball, the home plate umpire must stand behind the pitcher’s mound, socially distanced from the pitcher, in order to call balls and strikes, if it is not feasible for them to be six feet from the catcher. Leagues must move the batter’s box up 18 inches or the catcher must wear a face covering or shield over the catcher’s mask. Players may not take a lead from first base to allow the first basement to social distance from a runner on first base and the first basement must stay six feet from the runner.
The regulations require that the ball be rotated as frequently as possible or it must be disinfected between innings. Players should not share equipment and there must be distancing in dugouts as well as in stands. Base coaches must distance from runners, players and umpires while individual teams must use their own equipment, including water bottles. No community water cooler is permitted and players must not be permitted to spit, chew gum or eat sunflower seeds. Players should wash or sanitize hands between innings.
There must also be extensive signage instructing spectators and players about face coverings, social distancing, hand washing and staying home if they are sick.
“We don’t think these rules will be difficult to adhere to,” Lance Skinner of Milford Little League said. “We have kind of been putting these things in place already in anticipation of being able to play. We are only having Major League this year. We knew that social distancing for younger kids would be difficult and we felt that Senior League would take up too many fields. We wanted to have Major League because a lot of those kids are 12 and don’t move onto Senior League. We wanted to give them that last year to play.”
Skinner explained that the biggest complaint he had received was about the catcher being six feet behind the batter as this can be dangerous for the catcher.
“You don’t want a pitch to bounce and hit the catcher,” Skinner said “We are addressing this by requiring the batter to stand forward in the batter’s box closer to the front of home plate. This creates the six-foot distance necessary. As for the umpire behind the pitcher, I have talked to Duane Fox who is our Umpire in Chief. He doesn’t feel this will be a problem. In some leagues, we already call balls and strikes from the pitchers mound.”
In the Governor’s press conference on Friday, June 12, Dr. Rattay explained the reason for some of the regulations. She stated that baseball is considered medium risk like field hockey, basketball and soccer. Although there is a little more risk in those sports as several players go for the ball at one time, there are times when players are in very close proximity to each other, breathing heavily and sweating.
“We wanted to create a way for these sports to be played,” Dr. Rattay said. “We really feel like this is a positive for the kids. We are asking that all children wear face coverings when not on the field and if they could wear them while playing, that would be great. Players and coaches as well as spectators must wear face coverings at all times. Players and coaches must not mix with different teams. That may seem anti-social, but that’s where we are right now.”
Dr. Rattay explained that all teams should bring their own water and towels that must not be shared among teammates. She stated that outdoor play is better than indoor play, but if youth must play inside, doors and windows should be opened.
“Each team must have a plan for screening players,” Dr. Rattay said. “They need to identify a screening and hygiene manager to screen players for illness and promote constant hand washing. Every player and parent should know who that person is on the team.” Dr. Rattay also confirmed that tournaments in Delaware are not permitted in Stage II. Anyone who attends a tournament in another state must follow the same guidelines outlined for teams in Delaware.