While sports at all age levels try to work their way back in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, some youth baseball and softball organizations are approaching a return to the field.

Augusta Little League and Gardiner Cal Ripken are working on returning in the coming weeks, as the leagues announced on Facebook tentative plans to hold tryouts on May 30 and June 1, respectively.

While Gardiner Cal Ripken officials declined comment, Augusta Little League president Mike Karagiannes said that, though a wait for guidelines from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development that were released Wednesday pushed the target date to later in the first week of June, the focus is on getting the season started sooner rather than later.

“It’s for the kids, bottom line,” said Karagiannes, who released an in-depth list of safety guidelines the league will use with the virus in mind. “If there are kids out there that want the opportunity to go out and play and have responsible interaction and we can do it, then it should happen.”

Some parents of players in the Augusta league were excited by the announcement.

“I really don’t have any concerns about it. … It all looks like a really well-thought-out plan,” said Heather Perrault, whose son D.J. is 11. “I know, personally, our whole family is really excited about having a little bit of normal back. He’s really looking forward to it.”

Kailyn Manduca’s 11-year-old son Logan has asthma, and while she said she’s “nervous” about the sport opening and him playing, she feels it’s the right time.

“I think it’s just good for the kids to really be getting out. They’ve been pushing getting outside and getting active. I just think this is the perfect timing for it,” she said. “Just knowing that they are taking these precautions really makes me more comfortable, knowing he’ll be able to be safe while having fun.”

The precautions Manduca referenced were laid out in a memo posted on the Augusta Little League Facebook page on May 13. The two-page document detailed procedure for before and during the game to promote safety, including pre-game screening, bat disinfecting after each use and no “hands in” cheers. Karagiannes added that the teams won’t use dugouts either, and instead be on the other side of the fence when not on the field.

“Our board is 100 percent solidified on this, that for kids and volunteers, safety is priority No. 1,” Karagiannes said. “This is going to be a Herculean effort to get a season together in a couple of weeks and do all of this stuff, because it’s going to be a huge commitment for the volunteers to make sure that people follow the protocol.”

Karagiannes said that Augusta worked with the Hall-Dale and Lewiston Little Leagues on the safety guidelines. The plan is for both leagues to start when or soon after Augusta does.

“We want to make sure we take all the right steps to make this as successful as possible so that hopefully other programs can say ‘OK, here’s what they did. We can make this happen,’ ” Hall-Dale Little League president Matt Cary said.

Registered nurse Shannon Fitzpatrick is comfortable with youth baseball opening up soon – provided the coronavirus situation doesn’t take a turn for the worse. Submitted photo

Shannon Fitzpatrick, a registered nurse whose son Brennan is signed up to play for Ararat Cal Ripken, is confident baseball can be played safely, provided there are no setbacks in the number of COVID-19 cases across the state.

“I think we could do this safely, getting some spring ball in for the children,” she said. “I’m comfortable now. I don’t think I would have been at the beginning of May.”

Elsewhere, the picture is less clear. Babe Ruth Baseball canceled the Cal Ripken Major/60 World Series that was going to be held in Waterville, and instead tabbed the town as the host for 2022. Ararat Cal Ripken, which comprises Topsham, Bowdoinham, Bowdoin and Harpswell, planned to meet Tuesday to discuss the season but delayed the meeting until the state released its guidelines, president Josh Spooner said.

Brunswick Cal Ripken president Brian Rapoza posted an update on the organization’s Facebook page saying that the program is “working to find a plan so that the season is not a complete loss.”

“There are many deciding factors that will need to be taken into consideration as we are at the mercy of what our state, town and Babe Ruth hopefully releases for information in the near future,” Rapoza said. “We have been working with the Brunswick Parks & Recreation Department, they are just as eager for us to be able to move forward and are in the same mindset that safety is key as we do not know what the immediate future holds for all of us.”

Rapoza later stated that part of the league’s decision will come down to league interest and the ability to comply with social distancing guidelines and sanitization procedures.

On June 1, Maine will enter its next phase of reopening, allowing gatherings of up to 50 people in one area. This would allow baseball to happen, but with limited attendance. Lisbon has been looking at the facilities at its disposal and how the games could be spread out. Lisbon Junior Athletic League’s plan is to start baseball in June but is gauging interest, hoping to have everyone who wants to play sign up by May 31.

“We have five fields at our complex so we can only have one game going at a time,” LJAL president Tony Austin said. “During the week we are going to lose our capacity. On Saturdays and Sundays we could have games maybe at 9 a.m., then one at 11:30 a.m. at a different field, have a two-hour max, sanitize the fields so that on the weekends we could try to get a bunch of games in.”

Austin added that usually the league sends home flyers with students in the Lisbon school district, but with in-person schooling having been canceled in March, the league is relying on Facebook, its website and word of mouth.

Many people have reached out to Austin asking about playing this summer, but it won’t be a regular season.

“We won’t be able to use our snack shack which raises $3-4,000,” Austin said. “We want to do it as a board for the kids but if no one signs up then all our efforts are useless. We tried to have a hard deadline of May 31. If we have eight kids, then it won’t’ happen, but if it is like what we’ve heard then we are going to make that happen.”

Lisbon’s goal is to have baseball one way or another. So, too, is Bath.

The snack shack and stands are closed and empty at Quimby field in Gardiner at the moment. But baseball could soon return to Gardiner. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“We are planning on having a summer season this summer, we are just waiting like everyone else on the state directions from the state CDC,” vice president of Bath Youth Baseball Leslie Gallant said. “We plan on having a season, we are very dedicated to that, however, it will most likely look different but we want the kids out on the field. We just got the batting cages up and so we are ready to go but are just waiting on directions.”

Winthrop Cal Ripken baseball and Babe Ruth softball president Lonney Steeves said he’s gone from targeting early June to July 1, and is matching with Maine Principals’ Association guidelines.

“We’ve been putting together some thoughts about how can we disinfect the dugouts and bats and balls, and keep everybody separated as much as possible,” he said. “I’m trying to think about a way that we can run the program as inexpensively as possible. … If we’re able to run a program, I want to make sure that any kid that wants to do it can do it.”

Steeves last week said that the leagues could go quickly from first tryouts to playing games.

“If we started June 1, the tentative plan we put in place was to do a week of kind of placement activities, then create some teams, then have some practices the next week,” he said. “We were looking at starting games the middle of June and playing through the end of July.”

Others are in wait-and-see mode as well. Winslow Parks and Recreation Director Amanda McCaslin said the fields won’t be opened until Maine CDC gives the go-ahead, and that she plans to meet with the Winslow Cal Ripken baseball and Babe Ruth softball board in early June to discuss options for other league activities, including skill development clinics or pickup games.

“I feel at this point we really are in a holding pattern until the CDC releases the guidance and expectations they have for sports programs,” McCaslin said. “I feel like we owe it to the kids to offer as much outdoor recreation as possible this summer.”

Skowhegan Cal Ripken president Ben Dore said last Tuesday that the league is on pause, but added he hopes to have clarity as to whether or not a season is feasible soon.

“We are all getting a little antsy and are compiling all the information we can get to allow these kids to have baseball this year,” Dore said.

Capital Area Youth Softball Association president Tim Soule said he’s waiting for guidelines from USA Softball and the state before going forward, but that play can probably start up two weeks after getting the green light.

“We can make something happen in a relatively short amount of time, it’s just (that) we have no idea what to plan for at this point,” he said. “We need to get something so these kids don’t lose (the season), so we’re open to anything.”

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