The boys of summer….and maybe even fall

646

Alex Kurial
Local Journalism Initiative

The boys are back on the field in Wyoming as minor baseball makes its long-awaited summer debut.
The scene is a bit different this year though.
It’s still perfect baseball weather as the Wyoming Wranglers take to the field on an August evening. But there’s no opposing team, the usually full bleachers at Harry Canton Memorial Park are empty.
Even the 15 year-olds that make up the team have to remain six feet apart from each other.
This is youth baseball in the time of COVID-19. As dialed back as things are though, it has still come a long way even in just the past few weeks.
“Normally around now we’re getting ready for our end-of-year tournaments and our provincial tournaments,” says Wranglers Coach Craig Steadman.
The Ontario Baseball Association cancelled the season several months ago after physical distancing rules were put in place. Not wanting to impact their development, the team had to get creative to work around the restrictions.
Like many connections made during the pandemic, the team turned to video calls. “We got them together and we looked at simulations of major league games and mechanics to break down all that kind of stuff,” says Steadman. “And we got in some trivia and stuff there. I think at that time the biggest thing was to keep the boys in touch they weren’t really doing anything together. So, that gave us some time to chat.”
As restrictions eased during the summer the possibility of returning to the diamond began to arise.
There wouldn’t be a season, but the boost from just being able to take the field was huge for the team.
“It feels great,” says Wrangler player Tristan Nemcek on being back at practice. “The first couple of months that we were in quarantine was getting kind of boring. Being in the house all day was tough, so it’s great to be out doing active stuff with the other kids.”
Steadman, who teaches Grade 8 students, says these interactions are especially important in a time of isolation. “Kids don’t see each other on a regular basis, they’ve been out of school since March. So just getting out and seeing each other and putting in the work,” Steadman says are key for both physical and mental health.
Practice is of course different. Distancing is ensured during all drills to comply with current rules. While baseball is not typically a contact sport, this can still be a tough ask for kids.
“It’s a lot harder staying six feet apart,” says Nemcek. “In baseball there’s a lot of times where we’re doing drills altogether in a big group, and now we have to space that out and do some stuff on our own.”
For most of July – while outdoor gatherings were capped at 10 people – Steadman and the Wranglers held several different practice sessions to make sure all team members had time on the field. Now in stage three of the province’s reopening plan, the entire team can practice at once. It also means the possibility of competitive games this year may not be completely lost.
Steadman is hopeful the team can participate in fall ball starting in September. The league now allows for 50 people in a modified league, which equals two or three teams. Steadman is hoping to be able to schedule games with nearby teams who have also begun practicing.
Whether any games take place this year or not, being able to retake the field in any capacity has been huge for the Wyoming squad both athletically and emotionally.
“The best part about this group is they’ve been together since they were in rookie ball at eight and nine years old,” says Steadman. “They’ve lived in the same area, they grew up playing together, so they know each other pretty well. They’re friends at baseball, they’re friends at other sports like hockey and basketball, and then they’re buddies at school, too. It’s a close-knit group of players and parents, so it’s good that way.”
Steadman says everyone gets involved; parents, coaches, maintenance crews, and even sponsors to help transition back to baseball. Local collegiate athletes such as Noah Myers and Ty Barclay have even come out to lend expertise to the kids.
“To see all this community involvement, that’s what minor ball represents.”