With the country now into phase five of the plan to reopen the economy, sporting activities are gradually on the return.
Following an executive board meeting last week, the Junior Baseball League of Nassau (JBLN) has decided to complete its 2020 season, albeit under social distancing guidelines and with the proper safety protocols in place. The league is the first to make such a decision in local sports in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
League president Jeffrey Walcott said it’s important that they keep their players active and get back to some state of normalcy, while respecting safety guidelines and procedures. As it stands now, they will start with a test run using junior and senior players, and then move into a phased opening in order to compete the season that has been on hold since the second week in March. Right now, there is no timeline for the games, but the test run is expected to take place this summer.
A meeting is set for July 18 with coaches, umpires and league officials, so that everyone can be brought up to speed on how the league intends to proceed with its 2020 season.
“We’re very excited. We will discuss what we need to do and what we need to have in place for the test run and then again for the resumption of the season,” said Walcott. “It’s important that we get back to some sense of normalcy but do it safely. Whenever the permission is given, we will start again. We believe we owe it to our players and spectators to complete the season. If it runs late into the year, then we will start the 2021 season a little later – everything will be parallel with completing the 2020 season,” he added.
Walcott said that fans will be allowed to the fields but under social distancing guidelines.
“What we will do is have a reduced schedule of games, so that there can’t be a huge gathering at any one time,” he said. “We cannot afford to have any level of overcrowding for obvious reasons. Physical distancing is important,” he stressed.
Usually, registration starts in September and the league’s draft takes place in October. That is followed by team practices and scrimmages, and then the season gets underway. Over the past few weeks, the Bahamas Baseball Association (BBA) has produced an extensive 10-page document detailing a safe and secured return to baseball and presented it to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture. They are still awaiting a response on that document. Over 100 recommendations and items of consideration were put forth in the document by the COVID-19 Response Committee for baseball, inclusive of executives from JBLN and the Freedom Farm Baseball League (FFBL) along with BBA officials. That committee was chaired by Freedom Farm Senior Director and Commissioner Clarence ‘CJ’ McKenzie.
Committee member Shane Albury earlier said the document outlines prevention and safety methods and measures, and addresses all aspects of play on the field – pre-game, during the game and post-game. Included, he said, are social distancing measures; cleaning and sanitizing protocols, as it relates to equipment, stands and premises; and safety training for coaches, players, officials, volunteers, parents and concession stand workers.
Walcott said: “We will appoint health and safety officials to ensure that we adhere to all of the protocol as it relates to COVID-19 and follow the guidelines of the document. We are very concerned about health and safety but we want to get back some state of normalcy. There is no better way to do that than to get back to the field of dreams and do what we all enjoy – playing baseball. That’s very important for us and we’re looking forward to it.”
With the country being in phase five of the economic reopening plan, all restrictions on movement are lifted with the exception of it being during curfew hours – from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. Group training is allowed as long as it is done with social distancing in effect.
“We’re still waiting on the competent authority to give us the go ahead but we’re going to have all the protocols in place and get it right,” said Walcott. “We’re going to start the resumption of the season with a phased approach and that is going to be after we have a dry run this summer, where we’ll have the junior and senior boys come out and play games with the proper protocols in place – let them go through the motions of an actual game to see how it works. There are still things that we have to mitigate in terms of physical distancing and the only way that we could put the respective protocols in place is to have a dry run session.”
Walcott said they may have to make tweaks to how the games are organized and executed based on what happens during the test run.
“The idea is to go through all of the steps during the dry run, so that when we get back to the fields and resume the 2020 season, and also at the beginning of the 2021 season, we could make the necessary adjustments and tweak protocols if we have to do so,” said Walcott. “Once the competent authority gives us the OK to return to baseball activities, we will go ahead and put a schedule in place. The dry run is very important to us. We have to be able to learn from that and tweak certain things if we need to, so that protocols could be in place for the resumption of the 2020 season and we have a smooth transition back to regular baseball.”
The test run will only be for the juniors and seniors, 14-and-under (14U) and 16-and-under (16U). As for the phased opening, it would be done in such a way that caters to the older players first. The first phase will encompass players 13 and older (junior, senior and girls softball); the second phase will feature the nine to 12 year olds (minor and major); and the final phase will cater to the younger kids, eight and under (tee ball and coach pitch).
“The older players could appreciate what we are trying to implement and they understand it better, so we feel that it would be best to start with those two age groups and then transition to the others,” said Walcott.
Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) President Romell Knowles said that as long as they are following the safety protocols put in place by the Ministry of Health, they have their support and approval.
“I think it is a good thing to get the kids out of the house and practicing some outdoor activity, so that we could gradually get back to some type of normalcy,” said Knowles. “I’m sure that the leadership of JBLN is responsible enough to ensure that the health of their athletes and patrons is not compromised. That should be of paramount concern.”
Walcott is optimistic that the 2020 season will be completed by the end of the year, so they can then move gradually into the 2021 season. Baseball, in the country, has been stagnant since mid-March, due to the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic.