Summer season in ‘holding pattern’ for North Fork Little League

Baseball is coming back.

At least for some leagues.

Regardless of whether Major League Baseball sees the field again this year, some Little Leagues will. The Riverhead Little League appears to be one of them.

Riverhead Little League president Jeremy Savio, asked in a phone interview Tuesday what the chances are of his league playing ball this year, answered, “One hundred percent.”

Savio’s comments came on the heels of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Sunday that low-risk youth sports, including baseball and softball, may resume July 6 for regions of the state in Phase 3 of the NY Forward reopening plan. Long Island, currently in Phase 2, is expected to enter Phase 3 next week. Cuomo said two spectators per player will be permitted at games.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue Little League had already canceled its season while the North Fork Little League is in what its president, Anthony Cassone, described as a “holding pattern” over the fate of its season.

Savio said that in addition to the Phase 3 designation, the Riverhead Little League is awaiting an OK from the Riverhead Recreation Department for approval for use of Stotzky Memorial Park fields. “Once we get that, we’re going to open up our season and hopefully right around that July 6th date or a week after that,” he said.

Little League International recommends at least two weeks of practices before games, but Savio said his league was going to try to get three weeks of practices in. He said he would like to have the season completed by the end of August. “We want to get out there and play,” he said.

Little League seasons normally start in April.

Mattituck-Cutchogue will not have a 2020 season. It was canceled in early May.

“We held on for as long as we could,” league president Jonny Rowe said. “Speaking with town officials, it wasn’t looking too promising. Instead of leaving people hanging in the breeze, we had to make a decision.”

Rowe said he isn’t aware of the league ever canceling a season before.

“There was obvious disappointment, but there [were] also some families that pulled out before the season was canceled for fear of COVID-19, and the third side of that is kids still really want to play,” he said. “They want to get out on the field.”

Despite the cancellation, some Mattituck-Cutchogue players may yet get the chance to play ball this summer. Little League International has waived its residency/school attendance eligibility requirement for the 2020 regular season, giving leagues the option of accepting players whose home league canceled its season.

About one-fifth of the Mattituck-Cutchogue league, 15 to 20 players, may get to play for combined Riverhead-Mattituck teams, said Rowe.

Savio said he has received calls from other local leagues, such as Eastport-South Manor and Hampton Bays, talking about the possibility of inter-league play with those leagues. “Right now that’s kind of all up in the air,” he said.

Meanwhile, a North Fork Little League season remains hanging in the air like a lazy pop fly. Cassone said he is waiting to hear back from parents regarding their interest in playing in August and September. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

Referring to COVID-19’s impact on Little Leagues, Cassone said, “It stinks.” He said, “It’s really been a very big disappointment.”

Savio said he didn’t expect the start of the season to be delayed as long as it has for his league, even with the pandemic. He said the league had uniforms ready and was prepared to hit the field running. “It seemed like this was that year that everything was clicking, and everything just fell into place,” he said.

Except for that little thing called COVID-19.

Because of the coronavirus, the Little League World Series was canceled and Riverhead lost its Opening Day ceremony. “You’re going to miss that, but just after everything that we’ve been through, everybody’s been through, to get out on the field, I think that’s just going to be a big accomplishment,” said Savio.

Savio said a questionnaire the league sent out to parents a few weeks ago received a response rate of about 70%. Over 90% of the respondents, he said, want a season to be played.

“This year we’re going to roll with what we got and make the best out of it,” said Savio.

For Little Leagues that do play this year, this will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the strangest seasons ever.

“You got that right,” Cassone said. “This is going to go down in the history books.”