The familiar sound of clanging bats was expected to return to parks in south Madison County last week, as youth baseball teams were again planning to take to the field for practice.
With Gov. Tate Reeves lifting some restrictions on outside gatherings, Madison-Ridgeland (MR) Youth Baseball was wasting no time getting back into the swing of things.
“We want kids to get outside, to learn the game, and the rules of the game and appreciate the opportunity to be out there doing it,” said Keith Kinkade, president of the Madison-Ridgeland club.
Farther south, North Jackson Youth Baseball and Softball (NJYB) was hoping to resume practice this week but was still making sure it was allowed under the city’s emergency rules.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba issued guidelines as part of his “slow open” effort. Guidelines on the city’s website show that baseball and other contact sports are still prohibited. However, it was not clear if practices were allowed. The rules went into effect May 16, and will stay in place at least until May 30.
“A lot seems to hinge on what the governor allows at the state level and what the mayor allows at the city level,” said Smith Boykin, president of the North Jackson league.
Neither group knew when season play would begin, but officials with both were hoping it would be in early June. “We hope it will be the first of June, but it’s not our call,” Kinkade said. “We will proceed with games when we get permission from the governor to proceed.”
Earlier this month, Reeves amended his “safer at home” order, allowing outside gatherings of no more than 20 people.
The change went into effect on May 7 and will remain in place at least until May 25.
The restrictions mean that practice can go on, but no games can be played.
“There’s no way we could have two teams on the field at the same time. That’s 24 players before you have the coaches and umpires,” Ridgeland Parks and Recreation Director John North said. “It takes about 32 people to play a game.”
Teams in Madison-Ridgeland average about 12 players each. In all, around 2,200 children ages three to 18 are expected to play annually.
“We’ll average about the same number of players this year, but we will lose some because the season is in the summer, and because some parents are probably taking precautions with COVID-19,” North told the Sun.
North Jackson has about 800 participants each year, spanning three-year-old kindergarten through seventh grade.
“We’re at about 90 percent of that and holding,” Boykin said.
Both groups do expect drops in participation this year, as a result of COVID and because of scheduling conflicts.
Youth baseball typically runs from late March or early April to the end of May.
For its part, Madison-Ridgeland is giving parents the option of taking a refund now or receiving a credit for next year’s season.
In Jackson, parents are offered a partial refund (70 percent registration costs), or an opportunity to donate the fee to the association to help cover season overhead.
“We’re really grateful to the families who have chosen to do that,” Boykin said.
Youth baseball costs leagues thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a year in uniform and equipment costs.
Both groups ordered items prior to the season’s postponement. Those costs are typically covered team sponsorships and fees paid by parents.
“Obviously, there will be some financial impact. It will be our job to the best we can and get ready for next season,” Boykin said. “We’ll certainly be looking at fundraisers and will be trying to find the best path forward.”
Meanwhile, organizers say baseball will look different this year, thanks to the virus and social distancing requirements.
“During practice, there will be no huddles, no gathering in,” Kinkade said. “The coach will go to the mound to give instructions.
Players will also be prohibited from sharing equipment, and parents will be encouraged to stay in their cars, Kinkade said.
Practices typically lasts between 30 minutes and an hour.
To discourage gathering, the city of Ridgeland has removed bleachers from the ball fields at Hite Wolcott Park and Freedom Ridge Park.
“We will not put them back until the governor says its OK,” Mayor Gene McGee said.
Bleachers are not being removed in Jackson, but early on, they will be off limit to spectators.
NYJB recently emailed its revised policies to parents. Among changes, the association will be using only half of the fields at one time. And during games and practices, individuals and teams who are not participating are prohibited from using the facilities.
Both groups are also not planning to hold season-ending division tournaments.
Long-held baseball traditions for both groups are also being impacted.
“There will be no high-fives, no fist bumps or anything like that,” North said. “When games are over, instead of shaking hands, the players will walk over to the other team and tip their hats to each other.”