RIVER FALLS, Wis.-- Some baseball is better than no baseball.
That was the consensus of St. Croix Valley Baseball League teams when the league’s May start was delayed due to coronavirus restrictions. Now the league is making plans to play a modified schedule beginning in July.
League managers are meeting online this week to finalize plans for a nine-game format that will have each team playing each other once and a playoff to determine the league champion Aug. 5-9.
Amatuer baseball leagues across the state, including the SCVBL, announced back in April they were postponing the start of their respective 2020 seasons in accordance with Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order, which issued statewide restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the order May 13, leaving it to the state's 72 counties and local municipalities to manage their communities' response to the virus. That’s left each community that hosts a baseball team to loosen restrictions at different rates.
SCVBL president and Hudson River Rats manager Chris LaBreche said there’s still some uncertainty as to the restrictions that will be in place in each of the 10 league’s host towns, but he’s confident the SCVBL can plan for baseball beginning in July.
“At this very moment, there is uncertainty about access in Menomonie, Ellsworth, and New Richmond, although clearance has been granted for games with no more than 50 people onsite,” he said. “There are a lot of logistical details that need clean-up in my honest opinion, but town ball is up and running.”
Some SCVBL teams got a head start on the season last weekend by playing exhibition games in communities that had already loosened local restrictions, including the Spring Valley Hawks with a doubleheader in Strum and the River Falls Fighting Fish visiting Spooner and Hayward.
River Falls plans on hosting a pair of exhibition games at First National Bank of River Falls Field this weekend against the Anoka Bucs at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, June 26, and Kelley Fuels Diesel (St. Paul) at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 27.
River Falls Baseball Council president Greg Peters said the group will take all necessary precautions to adhere to local Covid 19 guidelines for the first weekend of baseball on the new turf field, including recommending spectators wear face coverings and maintain social distance practices.
“The grandstand will be open but we’ll have some seats that are closed to spread everybody out and if people want to bring lawn chairs and sit down the first and third base lines that’s fine with us,” he said. “The concession stand won’t be open but people can bring coolers and their own snacks and we’ll pass the hat during the game to try and pay for umpires.”
The Wisconsin Baseball Association earlier this month issued its own set of guidelines for returning to play, including no team water coolers or shared drinking stations. Game balls should be designated to each team to use while that team is playing defense, and players should refrain from high fives, handshake lines, and other physical contact with teammates, opposing players, umpires and fans.
The WBA recommends a “tip the cap” may be used postgame in lieu of handshake lines, and players should refrain from spitting, eating seeds, or chewing gum, tobacco and other similar products.
In addition, any player, fan or worker who exhibits symptoms, or has an immediate family member or roommate with symptoms, should stay home.
LaBreche said the SCVBL is taking the guidelines seriously.
“The other primary concern is that if a player does contract Covid-19, they’ll be out for two weeks, as will every other player at their game,” he said. “No joke. So we’re planning a season that could potentially get derailed at any time. Same thing for other leagues throughout the region.”
The River Falls Fighting Fish are tentatively scheduled to kick off league play Friday night July 3, at home against the Plum City Blues. Fighting Fish player-manager Josh Eidem said this summer at the ballpark will be about a lot more than just baseball.
“We are hoping the fans who do come out adhere with social distancing, spread themselves out, and just enjoy being outside watching some local baseball,” he said. “Some of our traditions will have to wait. For example if kids run the bases after the game we probably won’t have our players line the field to high-five them like we have in the past. We want to play ball and provide a little entertainment, but we need to be smart and responsible.”
In addition to the River Falls Fighting Fish, Hudson River Rats, Spring Valley Hawks, and Plum City Blues, the SCVBL also includes the New Richmond Millers, Prescott Pirates, Ellsworth Hubbers, Bay City Bombers, Elmwood Expos and Menomonie Eagles.