The numbers are down, but Mitchell’s slowpitch softball leagues marched on.
On Wednesday, after a four-week delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the men’s slowpitch softball league battled rain to hold its opening day. The women’s league started play on May 28. There were guidelines in place and less teams, but both leagues tried to keep it as normal as possible.
The men’s league has 18 teams this season, compared to 21 teams in the past. It usually has a 12-team lower division, but instead has two nine-team divisions this year. The women’s slowpitch league is down to 13 teams after consistently fielding 18 or 19 teams in the past.
“Some of them (aren’t playing this year) because some of them are in the medical field,” women’s league president Kathy Axsom said. “They don’t want to take the chance of exposing any of their patients.”
Men’s league president Joe Wenzel also pointed toward the pandemic as the reason for the declining participation, as well as, “some teams didn’t get the sponsors they normally would’ve got,” due to the virus’ impact on local businesses.
Still, the men’s league was fortunate by attracting 18 teams. It made scheduling easy, as each team plays their division opponents three times, despite the normal May 13 start being pushed back to the first week of June. According to Axson, some women’s teams start practicing in April during normal seasons, but couldn’t this year.
“The city owns the ballparks, so we needed to get the OK from the city before we could come out,” Wenzel said. “Other than that, pretty much everything is normal.”
Both leagues have put guidelines in place. They gave game balls to teams, rather than having umpires handle them. If a ball is hit out of play, teams will throw a fresh ball from the dugout. The women’s league santizies the balls and opted to not use the scoreboard other than for timing purposes, as well.
Around the Cadwell Sports Complex, there’s signs with social distancing guidelines:
Observe CDC’s minimum recommended physical distancing of 6 feet
Do not use facilities if you are exhibiting symptoms
Follow CDC’s guidance on personal hygiene
Teams asked Wenzel what would happen if an outbreak occurred midway through the season, which would result in teams being refunded. Overall, there hasn’t been a large vocal concern around either league, though.
The men’s league did receive interest from a Sioux Falls team after it canceled its slowpitch leagues. Wenzel wanted to give the Mitchell teams the first chance to sign up, and then after talking to other managers, opted to keep it local this year.
“A lot of the people, the concern was Minnehaha (County) is kind of a hotspot in the state, so that was a factor,” Wenzel said. “Plus, the number of teams we had was a factor, too. We got to a really good number for schedule making.”