Class B Legion baseball teams are starting to get a clearer picture of how a season might look.
Schedules are still being built and practices have yet to begin, but teams received a boost when The American Legion Department of South Dakota opted to sanction a 2020 season. It allows teams to use their name, logos on jerseys and insurance for the upcoming season.
Even as the season flipped from playable to cancelled and back last week, teams were prepared to play baseball this summer no matter the decision. The recent ruling by the state’s governing body cleared hurdles, rather than changed programs’ minds.
“The financial backing of insurance and we don’t have to go out and buy new jerseys,” Tabor coach Gary Kortan said. “If we need equipment or anything special due to the restrictions that might be made, we know we have financial support.”
Winner/Colome won’t have to charge players extra money like if a season wasn’t sanctioned, but other problems still need to be solved beyond schedule building as teams begin to practice before games start June 5.
Tabor hosted a couple of practices in March prior to the current COVID-19 pandemic, but today’s practice will be the first since then. Winner/Colome hopes to begin practices later this week, and Alexandria will start next week as it's still trying to recruit players to its current nine-man roster.
Once teams hit the field, their approach varies.
“As far as our side of it, I foresee no changes,” said Kortan, who mentioned the large crowds at Tabor’s amateur baseball games. “I don’t want to play with restrictions. I don’t want to have to limit the fans. We’re going forward as normal. As long as we can do that, we’re going to keep going.”
None of the coaches have heard concerns from parents, but Winner/Colome and Alexandria will play with restrictions.
Alexandria is following other teams, such as Mitchell, by giving each player their own helmets, wiping down team bats and having fans practice social distancing in the stands. Winner/Colome won’t have a team bus, rather parents will drive their kids to every game.
“To me, the hardest thing will be social distancing when you’re in the dugout,” Alexandria coach Greg Feiner said. “Policing that will be a little tough, but we’ll find a way.”
Winner/Colome coach Kory Foss has also heard ideas of teams bringing their own baseballs, mound visits requiring 6 feet of separation, the home plate umpire standing behind the pitcher and all players being required to wear batting gloves. Players will also have to sign a waiver to compete.
“It’s more or less just recognizing there’s added restrictions going on this year, and that we’re going to try to do everything we can to make sure kids are safe,” Foss said about the waiver.
Schedules could also look different as teams scramble to put one together. Kortan believes the majority of teams in the state will play, though teams could avoid venturing across the state.
Foss said Winner/Colome has a home-and-home series scheduled with Rapid City Post 320, while Tabor will play Vermillion and Dakota Valley.
“I know traveling will be a big thing,” Foss said. “A lot of people are nervous about going too far east for games.”
VFW putting finishing touches on state tourney idea
Despite sanctioning a season, the state rid itself of administration duties and setting up a state tournament. The South Dakota VFW has stepped in.
It will use the same format as its 16-and-under division uses, with four regional tournaments and eight teams qualifying for the state tournament on August 7-9 in Bryant. The regional tournaments would be played the week prior to the state tournament.
“That’s also determined by the number of teams that sign up,” said SD VFW Baseball Chairman Danny Frisby-Griffin. “Otherwise, we just take to everyone to state, do pool play and have a championship Sunday.”
It will come up with a decision by June 1, which will also include the regions. Teams will also need insurance, to abide by state and national COVID-19 policies and receive permission from city officials to play. Rules and guidelines are also posted on its website.
As of now, the SD VFW is expecting to move forward with the idea.
“We’re as confident as our local communities will allow us to be,” Frisby-Griffin said.