Minnesota’s 2020 amateur baseball season is on. Sort of.
Perhaps the best news for ballplayers coming out of Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing by Gov. Tim Walz was that hope still remains. The month of May has been a killer for baseball fans otherwise, with news of the cancellation of American Legion and Junior Legion seasons. Amateur ball, however, has thus far avoided that fate.
All of southwest Minnesota’s amateur baseball teams remain viable and anxious, as if they’re hopping up and down on the dugout steps waiting for someone to yell, “Play ball!”
“We are ready to adapt to any news the governor can give us. We will find a way to play, with new permission,” said Jackson’s Scott Bahr.
But the waiting game can be frustrating.
“Even if we’re not going to play, we’d like to be told we’re not going to play,” Bahr said.
The Bulls, the Cubs, the Buttermakers, the Pirates, the Horned Frogs and all the other summer squads waiting to take the field will have to wait just a little longer. This week, Walz made concessions to bars and restaurants, hair styling salons and campgrounds, but the return of youth and recreational sports will not be addressed until Phase 3 of the governor’s Stay Safe MN plan.
Several weeks ago, southwest Minnesota’s First Nite and Gopher league managers agreed on a mid-May target date for kicking off the amateur baseball season. Now, the new target is May 31 or the first weekend in June.
“We kind of modified our schedule,” said Luverne skipper Brooks Maurer. On Friday, his Redbirds had been planning to be in Marshall for a non-league game, but that didn’t happen.
“We have a schedule ready to go. … We’re just kind of sitting and waiting. Some of the guys have done a little hitting on their own in the cages. We’re not doing anything formal,” he said.
Waiting has been especially unsatisfying for Maurer. As a manager, he has much to do before the action actually begins -- fundraising, coordinating umpires, advertising for games, scheduling non-league games, and gathering teammates together to organize, among other things. He also has to wonder if, when the season does begin, the Redbirds’ ballpark will need to be closed off to fans.
“It’s not just being able to play. It’s just kind of the unknown, and wanting to plan things,” Maurer said.
A neighboring state, South Dakota, has already gotten the go-ahead for amateur baseball league games to begin on May 31, but with rules that no doubt cause some to chuckle. One rule states that bats cannot be used by more than one player. Another demands that all hitters are required to wear batting gloves. No shaking of hands will be allowed at the conclusion of games. And perhaps the most unusual: social distancing requires that pitchers and catchers must be at least six feet apart during mound meetings (meaning that baserunners might be able to overhear them discussing strategy).
Hadley Buttermakers manager Myron Bennett, however, said that what South Dakota has done may be a good sign for Minnesota, which continues to lobby Walz for amateur baseball’s return.
“The Minnesota Baseball Association is really working hard,” Bennett said. “They’re constantly contacting the governor, and a lot of teams are writing letters, too.”