Some Little Leaguers still in the swing of things

The Sports-Image Rockies, who play in M.O.T.’s Instructional League, wave their hats to their opponents after a recent game. The gesture has replaced fist bumps because of the coronavirus pandemic. Submitted photo/Sarah Boekholder

There’s not too much in the sports world that is normal this summer.

Little League baseball/softball is just one youth activity that’s been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But, even if they couldn’t give kids a full season, a few downstate leagues wanted to give their youngsters at least a part of a season.

Milford, Middletown’s M.O.T. and Smyrna-Clayton’s Little Lass programs have all been playing games this month.

All Little Leagues in the state had the option of playing after the state eased some restrictions on youth sports in June.

Milford has been playing Major League (11-12 year olds) baseball games, Monday through Thursday evenings, since late June.

“We did it because we just wanted the kids and the community to have some sort of normalcy,” said league president Lance Skinner. “We went with Major league baseball specifically because over half our league is 12 year olds and that’s the last age for Little League as far as Majors go. We wanted to give them one last opportunity to play Little League baseball.”

With M.O.T. and some leagues in New Castle County also having Major League baseball, there are tentative plans for holding a state tournament in August. Delaware has crowned a Major League state champion every year since 1957.

There wouldn’t be any regionals after the state tourney, though.

The games this summer are being played under health guidelines to try to prevent the spread of the virus, of course.

The adult coaches wear face coverings, the home plate umpire stands behind the pitcher to call balls and strikes and fans are expected to stay at least six feet apart.

“It’s going good,” said Skinner. “Little League guidelines suggested not opening a concession stand so we have a food truck that comes out there. That kind of gives families the opportunity to come out and get a bite to eat while they’re watching the game.

“We’ve had no real complaints. Everyone is complying, everyone seems on board with the restrictions that were put in place by the state. They understand that. The main thing is that we’re out there playing baseball for the kids.”

Because of the size of its league, M.O.T. has been able to offer games in all its age groups for both baseball and softball. M.O.T. has eight Major League squads this year compared to four for Milford.

The league started playing games on July 6.

“So far, so good,” said M.O.T. president Steve Lappert. “We do have, I think, some of the stricter safety protocols out there. But I think some parents are feeling comfortable that we’re doing everything we can to protect the kids.

“Aside from it being probably a little warmer than they’re used to for starting off the season, we’ve had some positive reactions. I think a lot of people are thankful that we have a small bit of normalcy by being able to get out on the field and play some ball.”

Besides the possible Major League state tournament, there won’t be any Little League regionals or World Series this summer.

That means for the first time since 1947, there won’t be a Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. this year. It also means that Lower Sussex Little League won’t be hosting the Senior League softball World Series.

“This is a heartbreaking decision for everyone at Little League International, but more so for those millions of Little Leaguers who have dreamt of one day playing in one of our seven World Series events,” Little League president and CEO. Stephen D. Keener said when the decision was announced in April,

But a handful of players in Delaware at least are getting to fill some smaller Little League dreams right now.

“At first we had a little negative feedback about the recommended guidelines that were put in place,” said Skinner. “But, once we got out on the field and started playing, everything worked itself out. All the feedback that we’ve received, it’s all been positive.”

“For the most part, it’s regular baseball and regular softball,” said Lappert. “With the masks and the umpires, there’s a few things we have to get used to. But I think most of the families are just glad that we’re out there.

“We’re thankful that we’re able to get out there and play. It’s been a great season so far.”