HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The wheels are in motion for a Little League Baseball season in Ottawa, but will this bus full of players, coaches, umpires and parents play a full season or will COVID-19 force public health officials to hit the brakes?
That is the millon-dollar question as the city’s inviting baseball diamonds await the arrival of hitters, pitchers, and fielders next month. Or will there be a repeat of 2020, when there was a late, short season under rule changes dictated by the pandemic?
If Ottawa’s District 2 (west end) and 6 (east end) teams can Play Ball!, there also may be another plus for the region. There’s a possibility that all five Ontario Little League championships could be played in Eastern Ontario, a potential first.
“Little League International is telling us to proceed with planning for a season,” said Jim Dean, district administrator for District 2 and Eastern vice-president Little League Canada.
The Little League International board of directors will again meet in two weeks and new directives related to the pandemic and baseball could emerge.
“We’d all like some season that could get us to the World Series,” Dean underlined.
He seems to have plenty of support as many teams are registering players for this spring season, which could start in mid-May.
---------- Story continues below ---------
The earliest the players and coaches can step onto the Ottawa diamonds is May 7, once the 30-day lockdown has ended. Allowing for 10 days of team practices and handing out of equipment, the regular season could start May 16.
“I desperately want to have baseball,” Dean added. “But I don’t want sick kids. They’re not vaccinating kids yet. They’ve vaccinated me, but it’s the kids who play the games. We’ll go ahead, hope and plan a season.”
Dean said all leagues have opened their registration process and “some leagues are ahead of last year’s pace. Parents want something for their kids.”
If Ottawa drops out of the grey zone, a 50-player bubble (about four teams) could be formed to make a league.
The bubble concept was used in 2020 to play a short season, where the umpire calling balls and strikes stood behind the pitcher, and there were no playoffs after the regular season.
District 2’s East Nepean Eagles are scheduled to play host to the majors (ages 11-12) and seniors (15-16) provincial championships, but Ontario Little League is looking for a host city for the other three tournaments.
Timmins has withdrawn as the host for the Ontario minors (9-10) championship under guidance from the local health unit, and Pembroke has stepped back from staging the junior tournament for non-COVID-19 reasons. The intermediate (13) championship could be held in Cornwall.
Toronto High Park has filled all of its registration spots, but is uncertain if it will have provincial tournament teams in minors and majors. Windsor Central is registering players, while Windsor South “will be attempting to host a season this year.”
Thunder Bay has started to register players as well. The main concern for baseball clubs staging provincial championships is having qualified district champions travelling to their city during the pandemic.
If the other Ontario districts don’t feel comfortable staging championships, the four Eastern Ontario districts – 2, 6, 7 (Seaway, Kingston) and 8 (Ottawa Valley) – could step forward as provincial tournament hosts.
“I’m not sure if it would be a first, but certainly it would make life busy,” Dean said.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.