The boys of summer are back on the field.
In small groups, at least.
With Baseball BC’s return-to-play plan approved and park permits issued, members of the White Rock Tritons junior baseball team returned to their home field at South Surrey Athletic Park this week, lacing up their cleats as a group for the first time since March.
The under-18 BC Premier Baseball League squad hit the field – in a group of 10 players and two coaches, as per the sport’s new COVID-19 protocol – on Tuesday evening, running through some drills and attempting to get back into playing shape after three months relaying on solo, at-home workouts and regular video coaches with coaches and teammates.
“The guys are excited – they just want to get out and see some friends again,” Tritons head coach Kyle Dhanani told Peace Arch News Tuesday morning, prior to the return to action.
“Some of these guys didn’t go back to school, so they haven’t really seen people in months. It’ll be good to just hang out, throw some (verbal) jabs at each other – it’s just good for team camaraderie.”
Tonight the Tritons return to SSAP for organized practices!
Check out vids from our @dropbox that allowed players and coaches to stay connected during the breakðŸ”±ðŸ‘ðŸ¼
Proud of our players for their patience and determination over the break!
— White Rock Tritons (@wrtritons) June 23, 2020
In addition to the limits on the numbers of players and coaches that can be on the field at once, other Baseball BC return-to-play rules include no shared equipment; no sharing of water bottles or food; no spitting and increased disinfection of equipment. As well, on-field meetings and handshakes and high-five are also off the table.
In minor baseball’s lower age divisions, some players are starting to return to the field, as well.
A few dozen Cloverdale Minor Baseball Association players have returned to practice, association president Mike Dance told Black Press Media earlier this week.
“We’re hoping to expand on those numbers as we move forward, but because the spring season had run its course and had to be cancelled, we’re going to open registration for some more divisions and hopefully more players will want to come out,” Dance said, adding that the association will focus on practice and skill development rather than games.
The BCPBL has scrapped its season, and teams that do return to action will focus strictly on training; with on-field players limited to 10 or less, games would be impossible, even if there was enough time for a truncated schedule.
Dhanani hoped that, if B.C. continues to flatten the COVID-19 curve and provincial authorities announce plans to move to Phase 3 or beyond of a restart plan, teams could perhaps practice in larger groups later in the summer, and perhaps – if things go well – even play some type of modified game, either with fewer players, less innings or both.
“Maybe by later in the July or August we can do that, and then by September we could have a close-to-normal fall ball season… but it’s all wait-and-see,” he said.
“For now, we’re just trying to use this time to prepare for the next season. We have some guys who haven’t played on this bigger (PBL) field, so we’ll get them ready and used to that (before next spring).”
Though the Tritons – the U18s, the U16 juniors and the U15 bantams – have been training alone for months and the pandemic wiped out the entire season, Dhanani said they consider themselves lucky, because they’re one of the few ball clubs to have at least played a few competitive games this season.
Back in March – just before the pandemic shut down travel and resulted in shelter-at-home restrictions – a contingent of White Rock players and coaches travelled to Tucson, Ariz. for spring training and exhibition games against U.S. competition. Though the trip was ultimately cut a little short, they still managed to see some on-field action.
However, the coach admits getting a taste of it made it even tougher to deal with when sports were cancelled.
“We’re the lucky ones because at least we got to go play, but it did almost make it worse because we had the chance and then had it taken away,” Dhanani said. “We’re grateful though, because we got some good memories.”
Moving forward, Dhanani said the team would likely hold evening training sessions four times per week, though he stressed that they’re not mandatory, and he also expects his players to be at different stages of fitness as they return.
“Some of the kids have done a lot of work in the last few months, and some haven’t really don’t anything so they might be hurting a little bit (during the restart) and have to start slow,” he said.
“And some parents are probably going to be a little cautious, so maybe some (players) won’t come every night, and that’s OK. We’re not going to pressure anybody. We’re just saying, ‘This is what we’re offering, and here we are.'”
– with files from Tom Zillich