It’s hard to imagine a spring and summer in the United States without hearing the crack of a bat at a baseball game.
Or, if you’re a little too young to be playing in the big leagues, make that the ding of a metal bat at a little league field.
Youth baseball and softball players all over the country had their seasons thrown into jeopardy earlier this year as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the nation. Unfortunately, some players didn’t get their seasons back.
Other leagues were able to find solutions. The Elizabethtown Area Baseball Commission was one such league that was able to make it work.
Since the week after the Fourth of July, the EABC has been playing games at the Elizabethtown Sports Park in place of its traditional fields.
There are plenty of rules and restrictions as to what’s allowed and not allowed, but for players like 11-year-old Landon Atcher of the Yankees, it’s just good to be on the field.
“I am enjoying it super well,” Atcher said. “It’s great to get back into sports and I didn’t know what I was gonna do if they canceled sports for the summer.”
Players like Atcher’s 10-year-old teammate Nolan Hack think the weird rules are better than the alternative.
“It’s a lot more fun than sitting on the couch at home, I think,” Hack said.
By no means does it look like a normal season for EABC players and fans.
Around the Sports Park, there are signs reminding guests to practice social distancing. Players are not allowed to sit in the dugouts and instead sit on rows of benches outside of them.
Perhaps the strangest part is the orange netting that looks like its’ from a construction site that covers all access to the bleachers. As another precaution and a method to prevent gatherings in too close of proximity, fans are instead spread out around the diamond in groups of lawn chairs. Like a campsite at a national park or a festival, these groups are divided mainly into families or groups of people that traveled together.
It’s not exactly normal, but it’s better than not watching games at all. Over at Field 1 at the green quad, Bruce and Jeanine Hart are watching their grandson Brody. The two have their lawn chairs set up down near the right field fence to watch him play first base.
“It’s definitely been different, but everybody keeps their distance, well with family,” Jeanine said. “So I think it’s working out great.”
Sitting in lawn chairs doesn’t seem to bother the couple either.
“It’s different,” Bruce reiterated. “You’ve got to adapt to it, but it’s something that’s not gonna cause no issue.”
Over at Field 8 at the Red Quad, Brandon Butler has a lawn chair set a little further back from home plate near the snack bar. He’s watching his son Christian play his first season in the league for the age 9-10 Nationals.
After some uncertainty about the chances of this season happening, Butler’s just happy that his son and all the other players are still getting a chance to play some ball this summer.
“It’s been delayed, but resilient. These kids are very resilient,” Butler said. “The kids, they’re doing fine. It’s great for them to be able to start playing a sport again because it gives them something to push for. They’ve been stuck in the house and didn’t think that sports were gonna continue through so its been great to get on with their lives.”
For the most part, fans have been very good about keeping the guidelines in mind when at games. According to Chris McCrary, who coaches in the 7-8 year-old division for the Rangers, the biggest thing is just making sure to remember the guidelines when everyone’s getting into the action during the game.
“The players are really separated from the fans and the bleachers are roped off essentially just to keep maximum distancing,” McCrary said. “You’ll see groups of parents and they’re pretty good about sticking with what I would call family pods, people who live together or if they come to the ballpark together they stick together.
“It’s hard because I think sometimes they get wrapped up in the same thing players get wrapped up in and they forget about what’s going on. But the Sports Park employees have been pretty good about going around and trying to enforce social distancing and remind us. It’s a constant reminder that hey, if we don’t do this right, we’re not gonna be able to keep doing it.”
McCrary added these are some of the biggest challenges that have emerged for fans and teams since the reopening of the season. Just making sure to keep the smaller things in mind when it comes to guidelines is something everyone has to remember.
This could be as simple as remembering players shouldn’t be high-fiving each other after something exciting happens.
McCrary believed his kids are just old enough to have somewhat of an idea of the current situation and therefore do their best to remember to follow the rules.
“The kids I coach are right at the precipice of understanding that there’s something going on, you’ve gotta be careful,” he said. “It’s really easy to get caught up in the moment, you know, a kid has a really nice hit or really makes a nice play on the field and you’ve gotta keep reminding the kids ‘Hey, you guys gotta stay out of the dugout, you’ve gotta stay apart a little bit more,’ so that’s probably the constant reminder, at least from a coaching standpoint it’s probably the toughest part.
“But I feel like the kids themselves and our coaches are adhering to guidelines. It’s tough sometimes because you get wrapped up in the game. What’s great about some of these games is you’re kind of back in real life, but what you have to be cognizant of is in the back of your head is ‘Oh, we’ve gotta.’ So there’s times when the kids’ll get excited and get close together and you’ve gotta go say ‘Hey guys, you’ve gotta be socially distanced,’ and they get it. I don’t have any complaints from kids.”
Over in the 9-10 year old minor league division, Coach Adam Atcher of the Yankees and Landon’s father, has had similar experiences with his kids. Everyone seems to be understanding of the guidelines and is doing their best to keep them in mind.
Aspects of how they are organized may have changed. When it comes to the game itself, Atcher said its business as usual.
“It’s a lot different. Everything’s different right now. But as far as the baseball goes, baseball’s baseball. It hasn’t changed a whole lot,” Atcher said. “Not using dugouts, encouraging players to sit beside them and reminding them to spread out all the time is something new that you have to add to it every day, but as far as baseball goes, baseball’s baseball, so we’re really enjoying that part of it and being able to be out and do some different things.”
As an EABC commission member and the major league rep, Atcher has been tasked with reminding not only his players and spectators, but also his coaches in the major league division to make sure to keep the rules and guidelines in mind during games.
While it was more difficult to make sure everyone was complying at first simply due to everyone being new to it, he said it’s only gotten better as the season continued the last few weeks.
“When we’re at the park, we don’t all have to cram in behind home plate, we don’t all have to cram in on top of each other and still spread out through the park,” Atcher said. “That’s where the Sports Park’s really great. There’s plenty of room to do that. They’ve been great with working with us in the commission in giving us the availability to stagger fields, spread people out in the outfield, that type of thing.”
Getting to play in a place like the Elizabethtown Sports Park has been one of the positives for the EABC players this season.
Normally reserved for large tournaments for travel teams and similar competitions, this is the first time many EABC players have gotten a chance to compete on these fields.
After some uncertainty about what the season could look like if it happened at all, Atcher was glad all of the commission’s players were getting the chance to play to sport on these fields. For many EABC kids, this is the first time they’ve gotten to play a game here.
“The Sports Park is a world-class facility and we’re extremely luck to have it here in town,” Atcher said. “To use it for kids who don’t normally get to play on something like that, for the majority of our kids to get play on an AstroTurf field, get to play in that environment is really, really a cool thing for those kids.”
Regardless of the changes and adaptations everyone has had to accept in order to have a season, everyone is just happy to see the kids playing some baseball. For the adults, it’s important to ensure the kids get to have these types of experiences.
“I think sports are a tool to help kids understand life and also what we’re going through. You have to adapt,” Butler said. “Life is going to give you at a twist in a blue moon but you have to be able to adapt and bounce back.”
The kids just love being able to play.
“I’m really happy, like really happy,” Hack said. “Because as I said, it’s better than sitting on the couch.”