This is ordinarily a big time of the year for Little Leagues, but these are not ordinary times.
Little Leagues have been stopped by something much bigger: COVID-19.
Under normal circumstances, it would be around this time when Little League baseball and softball teams would awake from their winter hibernation and begin outdoor practices.
But these are not normal circumstances.
The sounds of cracks of the bat and the pop of balls being caught has been replaced by silence on empty fields thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
Little League International, which operates more than 6,500 programs in over 84 countries, had initially implemented, with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a temporary suspension/delay of all league activities until April 1. That date has since been pushed back to May 11.
“We recognize that this is the heart of the traditional Little League season, and we share in the great disappointment that many are feeling surrounding this additional pause in the 2020 season,” a statement on littleleague.org read. “However, it is our hope that by doing this, we will all play a small, but important part in flattening the curve in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Little League International said it will continue to consult with medical advisors, government health officials and volunteer leaders around the world and offer the best guidance possible to its leagues. “It is our sincere hope that we can find ways to bring everyone back to the Little League fields this season, whether that’s later this spring or throughout the summer,” the statement added.
“I knew that message was coming, and when I did get it it became real,” said Mattituck-Cutchogue Little League president Jonny Rowe.
The Riverhead Little League website has a running countdown to its originally scheduled April 20 Opening Day.
That, however, will not happen. At least not then.
Riverhead Little League president Jeremy Savio said he is not aware of his league, formed in 1952, ever having canceled a season before, and he sounds determined not to see that happen.
“I basically told everybody that we’re going to do everything in our power to have a season, whether it be starting a little late or holding it in the summer,” Savio said. “I think that’s what everybody needs. We’re cooped up in our houses. I think it would be good for our parents and kids to be out on the field again.
“I think if worst comes to worst, we’re going to hold a season over the summer. We even have the ability to go into the fall. I hope we don’t. Even if we have a modified season and play for a few weeks, our goal is to get out there and have some fun.”
North Fork Little League president Anthony Cassone said he wasn’t a “happy camper” about the recommendation, but acknowledged there really isn’t a choice. “This could impact us playing in July and August,” he said. “You never know.”
Riverhead Little League, the largest of the local Little Leagues, has about 31 teams, with 356 players from ages 4-12 playing in various divisions. Savio said that is the most players the league has had since at least 2014.
Last year Riverhead won the 9/10-year-old District 36 championship for baseball, the third time in four years that Riverhead has produced a district champion.
“We’re putting out some good talent,” Savio said. “We have a lot of dedicated coaches involved and that’s what makes that happen.”
Savio said his league is in a good position to hit the ground running whenever the green light is given to start play. He said teams have already been formed, uniforms have already been ordered and schedules have been completed.
At some levels, Riverhead shares combined teams with Mattituck-Cutchogue and North Fork in order to give players an opportunity to play that they otherwise wouldn’t get because of low numbers.
“You do this to let the kids play ball,” said Cassone, whose North Fork league shares girls majors softball with Riverhead. “If you don’t have the numbers, you can’t field a team. That’s not a good idea. We want them to get out there and play ball.”
North Fork, which takes players from Peconic, Southold, Greenport, East Marion, Orient and Shelter Island, has about 130 registered players, said Cassone.
Mattituck-Cutchogue, Rowe said, has 95 players and was in the process of a minors draft when things were halted.
“Hopefully we’ll get out there for the kids and the whole community will get back to normalcy,” Rowe said. “We got to wait for more information … before we can make any decisions. People’s health has to come before all that.”
Savio said: “Some of the kids, it’s their last season. You don’t want them to not have that last season.”
Asked how confident he was about his league playing ball this year, Rowe said, “I don’t want to sound negative, but it is out of our hands at this point.”