Opening Day for the Parsons Babe Ruth League 2020 season on Monday was symbolic of more than just the start of another youth baseball season.
Monday represented one of sports’ biggest return to normalcy in Parsons since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Youth sports leagues around the country were forced to delay or outright cancel their seasons because of the coronavirus outbreak. The Parsons Babe Ruth League spent months figuring out how to hold a season.
League president John Rexwinkle cited his league’s autonomy as a driving factor for allowing the door to remain open for a season.
“We’re not operated or affiliated with the City of Parsons or the Parsons Recreation Commission. So we weren’t beholden to their timelines or decision-making. That afforded us the opportunity to sit back and wait,” Rexwinkle said. “Other leagues have a lot more moving parts when you use school or city facilities. That forced decisions to be made earlier. The fact that we’re our own entity afforded us some flexibility.”
While registration numbers for the Parsons Babe Ruth League were down for this summer, the league is fielding 18 teams between six age divisions with nearly 200 players participating.
“We’re pretty happy to have 18 teams,” Rexwinkle said. “We’re probably down 25% over the last few years, but it’s understandable. There’s a lot of uncertainty and some people had some trepidation. The bottom line is that we’re happy to offer 190 kids baseball this summer.”
Now the challenge for the Parsons Babe Ruth League is to maintain its planned season in the wake of the pandemic.
Cases are beginning to pop up in and around the region. In the last two weeks, Labette County announced four new cases of the coronavirus after going over a month without one. Crawford County has seen 90 new cases since June 7 after the county had just six between March 24-June 6. The Caney Valley school district shut down its facilities after student-athletes in the school’s weights program were exposed to a case.
“Moving forward, we’re just playing it by ear as far as the virus. It’s making a bit of a resurgence, but we’ll continue to do what we’re doing. We’ll listen to the people that advise us on public health issues,” Rexwinkle said.
The league has instituted various protocols in an effort to stymie any potential spread of COVID-19. There are no postgame handshakes between teams. Players are asked to bring their own food and water and not share. Fans are asked to socially distance.
“We’ve never had community water in the dugouts,” Rexwinkle said. “The coaches talked to them about sharing water. Kids will be kids and give each other high-fives sometimes. We just hope to mitigate what we can and hope the adults act responsibly.”
Rexwinkle said the league will be quick to take action if COVID-19 begins to spread in Parsons.
“From the local perspective, if community spread is demonstrated and widespread, at that point you have to jump in pretty quick and at least pause a week to reevaluate,” Rexwinkle said. “In addition to positive cases, we have to take into account the severity. If the symptom consolidation is pretty mild, that changes our viewpoint. We want to protect the kids and our vulnerable populations.”
At Monday’s Opening Day, the bleachers were mostly devoid of fans who instead spread lawn chairs along the fence lines. Concession stand workers wore masks while coaches, players and parents did their best to maintain a baseball season in a pandemic.
“It was apparent that there was a lot of enthusiasm and excitement for the coaches and kids to be playing baseball,” Rexwinkle said. “We had better turnout than I expected from a fan standpoint. Most of them used common sense and were reasonable.”
Ultimately, the Parsons Babe Ruth League is finding its own way to thrive in a summer defined by uncertainty.
“We’re doing as well as we can from a logistical standpoint with the resources we have,” Rexwinkle said. “Whatever baseball we get in is a bonus. If we can get five weeks and a whole season in, that’s great. Three weeks would still be a win, and most parents would say that it was beneficial. I’m hopeful we can have a normal season from here on out. We’re playing with house money.”