AUGUSTA — On a sunny late afternoon, the most beautiful sound in Augusta was the ping of a metal baseball bat making contact with a baseball at Joe Linscott Field.

We haven’t heard this sound in a while. It’s an echo. It’s a memory. It’s a touchstone. It’s glorious.

After a silent spring, sports are beginning to stir again in Maine. Youth baseball and softball leagues are getting underway. A month and a half late, as the Covid-19 pandemic made a long winter longer, stretching our cabin fever into May.

In central Maine, Gardiner was first, with its youth baseball evaluations held Monday. Tuesday it was Augusta’s turn.

It was the same, but different. Each player had his temperature taken before he was allowed on the field. The temperature check will be a ritual before every practice and every game. This summer, it will be as much a part of Augusta youth baseball as hot dogs or postgame ice cream. There were X’s painted six feet apart in the gravel, letting each player know where to stand in line.

If a player doesn’t have his own batting helmet, he is issued one that he and only he will wear for the season. No more trading helmets with a base runner because you like the fit better.

There are X’s painted along the fence lining the field. Those are where players will stand during games. For this season, the dugouts are closed.

There are bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere. Augusta is doing its best to do this right. For some, it won’t be enough. For others, it will be too much.

“We lost one kid last night because we’re too strict,” said Danny Noyes, the coach who supervised and led the evaluations.

Noyes then raised his arms and shrugged his shoulders in the universal “what are you gonna do” motion.

As the players arrived, Noyes made small talk with them.

“What have you guys been doing the last three months? School work? How much?” Noyes said.

“Five hours a day,” a player replied. Noyes saw through the line.

“Not a chance,” he said.

“OK, 20 minutes.”

Most of baseball lends itself to social distancing. Even on a smaller field built for youth baseball, there’s plenty of room to roam, plenty of space for all.

Noyes led warmups in the outfield, a dozen players in the 5:30 evaluation session spread out generously. They threw to warm up, light tosses around 10 feet apart first, then backing up and making the throws longer and harder. They took part in infield drills, throwing the ball around the horn.

Players toss around the ball during Augusta Little League tryouts Tuesday on Linscott Field in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

While players stepped to the plate one at a time to take batting practice from Noyes, others hit off tees. The wind picked up, the temperature went down, and they played ball.

Let’s retire this phrase that’s been all over the place for the last few months, the “new normal.”

There’s normal, and there’s not. Playing baseball is most certainly normal, even played with the precautions we’ve added to our daily routines. Wiping down you bat with a disinfectant wipe after taking your cuts is just one of those things now.

These last few months have been frustrating and scary and hard, but we got through them. There’s more work to be done, of course, and that work includes getting back to doing things we took for granted.

Like playing and watching baseball. Like absorbing the little joy that comes when the ping of bat connecting with ball meets your ear.

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