Despite no World Series, Little Leaguers still excited for states

MIDDLETOWN — Everybody’s got a lot on their minds right now.

But that’s what Chris Short likes about having Little League baseball this summer.

The Milford Major League baseball all-star manager said the game gives people something else to think about for just a little bit.

“All this COVID stuff — whether it’s your job or whether the kids can’t go right back to school — this two hours gets us distracted from all that,” said Short. “The game is what it is. You’re able to get out and just compete and have fun.”

With that in mind, it will be a very different Major League baseball state tournament that is held this week in Middletown.

The eight-team, double-elimination tourney was slated to get underway on Tuesday night at M.O.T.’s complex.

While Delaware has crowned a Little League state champion every year since 1957, the coronavirus pandemic will make this year’s tournament unlike any that have been held before.

For one thing, several of the state’s leagues decided not to play a season after the governor’s office OK’d youth sports in June. Milford and M.O.T. are the only District I or III teams in the bracket.

Normally, it’s played in July and includes only the state’s three district champions. And it’s a season-ending event — there won’t be any trip to the Mid-Atlantic regional on the line.

That also means there’s no dream of reaching the Little League World Series, which has long been canceled for this year.

Of course teams and spectators will also be expected to follow virus protocols, like wearing masks and social distancing.

M.O.T. manager Jeff Simpson said the players are used to the guidelines by now. M.O.T. has had its players sit in the stands, rather than use the dugouts, while moving the parents farther away.

“Kids are pretty resilient,” said Simpson. “I’ve had more complaints from parents saying they can’t see the game as well from where they’ve had to sit than I’ve had from kids.

“Between sanitizing baseballs, and wearing masks and sanitizing hands between innings, the kids are pretty used to it at this point.”

“Everybody does their best,” said Short. “I think we’re all respectful of everyone social distancing to protect others around them and being courteous. I really think it worked out well.”

M.O.T. was scheduled to open the tournament with an 8:30 p.m. game against Canal on Tuesday. Milford is slated to face Brandywine today at 6 p.m.

The other teams in the field are Naamans, Capital/Midway, Newark National and Newark American. The state championship game is scheduled for Aug. 25 at 6 p.m.

Newark National is the defending state champion.

It’s difficult to say how the overall situation will affect this year’s tournament. With the Little League World Series growing into such a big national event, some of that pressure can trickle down to the state level at times.

That won’t be a part of the atmosphere this time.

“Kids were disappointed when that first came out,” Simpson said about there being no World Series. “But, at the end of the day, baseball is baseball. I think most of us have moved past that. Whoever wins, they’ll crown you the state champion.

“It’ll be different. But, by this point, it’s been so different throughout the summer of Little League, once the first pitch is thrown, the kids are playing ball.”

After finishing third with a 3-2 record in the District I tourney last year, Short said his players are pretty excited about the chance to play in a state tournament. Milford returns at least five players from last year’s all-star squad.

“We’re practicing, we’re working hard,” said Short. “It’s a good group with a lot of camaraderie. This group gets along really well together, from top to bottom. We’re looking to go up and play hard.”