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Summer league baseball resumes with safety challenges

By Carter Eckl ceckl@nevadaappeal.com

As the big leagues look to open in the coming weeks, high school baseball in Northern Nevada has been quick to re-launch after losing a majority of the spring season.

It still looks like baseball on the field, but the requirements on coaching staffs to cover all the proper safety protocols in the midst of a pandemic has added new challenges.

The NIAA and NFHS put in place numerous standards to return to athletic fields, which brings unique circumstances to players and coaches trying to recoup some feeling of normalcy.

“We certainly take it with much appreciation. I think for a vast majority of America we took a lot of things for granted and things can be taken away,” said Carson High baseball coach Bryan Manoukian.

Players have been anxious to get back on the field, but the usual routines commonly associated with baseball have forced some changes.

Working with what you’re given

In order to step foot on the field, coaches are required to take temperature checks of all players as well as asking players about potential symptoms from a screening questionnaire.

In Phase 1 and 2 of reopening high school sports, the NFHS outlined plans for sanitation of equipment, social distancing during practices and, for baseball specifically, sanitation of balls being used by the team.

“We’re going through new balls like crazy. We don’t have the money that most programs have that they can just toss a ball out every play,” said Douglas Tiger and Dirtbag head coach Ryan Gonzalez. “We’re really trying to exchange balls, wipe down our equipment, keeping our distance apart, not sharing equipment or water.”

Both coaches will readily admit the procedural changes just to get onto the field have added a new learning curve, both realize that the changes made are in the best interest of the players and the sport moving forward.

“It’s really just common sense and its probably just good practices that we should have been anyway. Especially since baseball season is the height of the flu season,” Manoukian said.

Both coaches said the additions to player safety guidelines have been easy when compared to the task of scheduling and the constant shuffling of schedules due to new state mandates and other factors outside of their control.

Outside of safety, schedule flexibility has become the biggest challenge of the summer season.

A low-risk environment

Baseball is classified as a moderate risk sport by the NFHS, with a caveat to become a low risk sport if the proper sanitation guidelines are followed.

According to the NFHS, a lower risk sport is one “that can be done with social distancing or individually with no sharing of equipment or the ability to clean the equipment between use by competitors.”

In order to follow state safety guidelines, spectators aren’t allowed in attendance either forcing parents to watch a live stream or check stats after the fact.

Not having spectators and having so many new parts of practice has put some players on edge.

“If you’re really passionate about something, you’ll put in the work even if no one is watching. …That’s the message we are sending to our kids,” said Gonzalez.

Ultimately, low risk by definition implies there is some level of risk with athletics returning.

Safety guidelines or not, coaches and players still have to be willing to make changes to a sport that is, by design, a bit dirty.

Gone are your handshake lines and high-fives, replaced by fist bumps and helmet taps.

As safe as Carson High can try to be, visiting opponents have to put up the same level of effort in order to keep everyone on the field.

“If we don’t get to finish, it will be circumstances outside of our control and that’s our biggest fear,” said Manoukian. “This has to be one of the lowest risk environments out here. Baseball itself is a socially distanced game. Outfielders are hundreds of feet apart; fielders don’t stand next to each other. … The players and the coaches in here, we know how serious it is and how easy it can be taken away and we don’t want that to happen.”

Each team has to do its part to keep the summer season around and as much as everyone wants a return to normalcy as quick as possible, the opportunity to be playing at all shouldn’t be taken lightly.