After a year-long hiatus, the Rockville Centre Little League is scheduled to return in just a few weeks’ time.
The resumption of baseball will help bring a modicum of normality to village residents and their children, although during games the dugouts and bleachers will look a bit different in the interest of ensuring the safety of athletes and parents alike.
The instructional division for 6-year-olds, which usually consists of 100 or so children going from station to station, learning the basics of the game from trainers, will not take place this year because of the challenges of social distancing.
A similar division for girls’ softball has been canceled for the same reason, which means the league will lose about 200 kids who would normally register: A league that normally numbers around 735 will be reduced to a maximum of 535.
Pat McGuire, the league registrar and information officer said it is expected to register around 500 children this season. During a pre-registration period from February 1 to March 31 to gauge interest, league officials were pleasantly surprised to see 460 athletes sign up.
The enthusiastic response was a welcome development, because other Little Leagues in surrounding communities such as East Rockaway, Lynbrook and Oceanside have had to merge their leagues due to declining interest in baseball or conflicts with other sports.
“Rockville Centre Little League is about playing with your friends and having fun,” McGuire said. “It’s not about getting yourself ready for a college scholarship.”
In the field, baseball lends itself to social distancing, but the crowding of players in the dugout and fans in the stands is another matter. At some locations, like Lister Field, on S. Park Avenue or Hickey Field on Sunrise Highway, the dugout will extend into the stands to provide enough distancing for players, and parents will watch from the outfield. McGuire worked with village officials to make sure all attendees would be safe.
The league usually has both teenage umpires and older, professional umpires, but this year only the latter will call games. “We hate to do that, but we have to have more of an adult presence to keep the order,” McGuire said. Umpires will also make sure players and coaches in the dugouts are wearing masks at all times. Masks won’t be required for players in the field, but batters, catchers and umpires will wear masks around home plate.
One of the league’s managers, Kieran Conlon, said he has seen “the good, the bad and the ugly” when it comes to the way other leagues have been managed during the pandemic, because his two sons play in travel leagues.
Conlon said he was confident in the steps Rockville Centre has taken, from the extension of the dugouts to disinfecting baseballs and catchers’ equipment.
With the registration numbers looking good for the return to play, McGuire said he was excited to get things going, and he believed everyone else was, too. “It was very surprising to us that that many signed up,” he said, “and it lets us know that these parents and kids are ready to go.”