The baseball fields of the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League, SFCBL, feel like an oasis these days.
With the COVID-19 pandemic consuming the country and more specifically Florida, playing baseball right now can feel like playing under the eye of a hurricane.
Summer leagues across the country like the SFCBL has provided an outlet for players who worked hard to prepare for the spring season only to see it erased due to the coronavirus.
“It was a real bummer,” said former Florida pitcher Justin Alintoff, who plays for the Delray Beach Lightning. “At UF, we were 16-0 then next thing we know, the season is over. I would encourage everyone to wear a mask and stay safe, wash your hands. This is a real shame and it’s good that we’re able to get out and continue to play.”
The players say that baseball has allowed them to free their minds from the threat of the coronavirus, but even that can be difficult because of the need to be cognizant of the new rules and regulations put in place to keep them safe.
“The only time I’m not thinking about [COVID-19] is when I’m on the baseball field,” said Florida infielder Cory Acton, who plays for the West Boca Snappers. “We still have to wear the masks and still be protected but other than that, we’re playing like it’s a normal day.”
“You try to not think about it,” said Florida Atlantic infielder Jared DeSantolo, who plays for the Palm Beach Diamond Ducks. “It’s definitely interesting seeing what they’ve been doing, trying umpires behind the mound and having them all wear masks. At the end of the day, it’s still baseball.”
“Now I kind of think about it a lot because of the new rules and regulations they kind of put in,” said LSU outfielder Gavin Dugas, who plays for the Boyton Beach Buccaneers. “It’s kind of weird playing though it but it’s not that bad.”
Georgia outfielder Randon Jernigan, who plays for the West Boca Snappers, said the mask is an important part of the process because the nature of the baseball dugout doesn’t allow for social distancing.
“In the dugout we’re all pretty conscious about it now because everybody is making sure we’re putting on our masks.” Jernigan said. “It’s kind of weird being so hot but I’m getting used to it.
“You have 30 guys in a little space and you have to wear masks because you’re not going to get six feet apart,” he said. “I don’t care who tries to enforce it, it’s not going to work. But as long as we have masks we’ll be okay.”
South Florida Collegiate Baseball League
Every player in the league was tested before the beginning of the season. A few players and at least one coach have already tested positive for the coronavirus. Alintoff said one of the players who tested positive was on his team and everyone who was around said players were then tested after that, and that the protocols in place has been able to keep the game going safely.
Two umpires officiate each game and wear masks at all times. Players don’t have to wear masks while on the field since the nature of the sport keeps them distant. However, when in the dugout, the players are instructed to wear masks and some of them who aren’t playing would watch the games from outside the dugout and field.
“Playing in this outbreak is definitely unlike something I’ve seen before,” said former FIU pitcher CJ Dearman, who plays for the Pompano Beach Clippers. “We have way more rules to abide by like wearing masks on the field and trying to keep a safe distance away for me each other.
“Also our full team is never at the same game,” he said. “Our teams usually split in half and the half playing is the ones who show up to the game. I must admit it’s really weird playing like this and acting as if you can’t touch anyone, but in order to play this game it’s worth following all the rules.”
Some fields have made an effort to make social distancing somewhat possible. One example it Little Fenway Park, home of the Lightning and Boca Raton Blazers having reserved the bleachers to players not on the field to watch. The fans the come to those games bring their own chairs to the game which naturally creates its own form of social distancing.
Palm Beach Atlantic University, the only college field used by the league, has their bleachers open for fans to watch. Usually the only people that view these games are a few scouts and the family members of the players who live locally.
According to anonymous player, one of the league coaches contracted the virus and two players are currently quarantining. One of those players who tested positive feels that it could possibly be a false positive test. He feels no symptoms and his family all tested negative.
The players originally would stay with host families during the summer season if they are coming from out of state. This time around, players are staying in hotels and Air BnB’s. One of the best aspects of summer baseball for players is the opportunity to meet and bond off the field.
That hasn’t been as easy this time around.
“It’s a huge adjustment. Obviously you want to get to know the players and everybody and get close and have conversations. But obviously we need to be more spread out,” said Villanova infielder Jeff Manto, who is plays catcher for the Lightning. “I’m just glad that we’re down here playing and I’ll do whatever we can to keep playing. Whatever it is I’ll make an adjustment.”
Some of these rules are sometimes not followed and usually difficult to enforce. However if the league can make it through the season, which runs through July 30 followed by the playoffs, with minimal cases. Then the SFCBL and other summer baseball leagues would serve as an example for how sports can be played safely.