Informal Delaware baseball league seems to be a hit

DOVER — Nobody gets paid and no standings are being kept.

But plenty of baseball players have showed up to play in an informal Delaware summer league anyway.

Six squads of college players with 11 more of high school players have recently started playing a couple games a week.

Tripp Keister

Some modified rules are in place and game participants are following guidelines to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Other than that, though, it’s still baseball.

“It’s pretty incredible,” said Tripp Keister, the longtime local coach who first came up with the idea. “I feel like we’re doing the right thing for these kids — letting them play. We’re doing it the right way in terms of the guidelines of what the governor and his office has set forth.”

The biggest issue with the league so far is finding fields that can be used.

The only downstate diamond that’s been made available for games is the one at Wesley College. That’s made it difficult for any teams from Kent or Sussex County to take part but there are downstate players involved with teams in both divisions.

For most of the players, these are the first games they’ve played since the shutdown began in mid-March. Keister said a lot of people just seem to be happy to be playing again.

“I can’t tell you how rewarding it’s been to see the players and their families that I don’t even really know, they tell me ‘Thank you and we love what you’re doing,’” said Keister, the former head coach at both Delaware State and Wesley. “A lot of people have appreciated what’s going on and it’s been nice.”

Probably the most noticeable difference in the pandemic rules is that the umpire stands behind the pitcher to call balls and strikes. Pitchers also can’t attempt to pick off runners because that would bring the possibility of contact between the fielder and runner.

“The kids are enjoying playing baseball,” said Keister. “I think the coaches are enjoying being on the field. The umpires have enjoyed it — obviously they’re part of the game as well. They’ve missed it.

“It’s been a great experience. We’re doing the right thing for these boys. We have to take care of baseball in this state.”

Keister isn’t sure how long the league will keep playing. He thinks the college division might last until Aug. 1 with the high school one perhaps going until Aug. 10.

Things could change a great deal in the next month, however.

Last week, Keister found out that the minor league baseball season was officially being canceled. The 49-year-old former Delaware standout is in his ninth year as a manager in the Washington Nationals farm system.

Even though the cancellation was expected, it was still difficult news for Keister, who’s been in baseball for most of his life.

“I think we all kind of knew it,” said Keister. “But there was a certain finality to it when they announced it. You miss a whole year.

“At the end of the day, you only have a set number of years — a set time as a baseball player. Your baseball career only lasts so long. When you miss a whole year, it’s a hard pill to swallow, there’s no question. It makes it difficult. And who knows what the landscape is going to be when we come back?”