Youth night 2

Waseca youth baseball players participate in the WYBA annual family night at Tink Larson Field, giving youngsters a chance to play on the big field. Minnesota Softball, along with two youth baseball programs have united to create a plan to return to the field. (County News file photo)

Minnesota Softball/USA Softball Minnesota, Gopher State/MYAS, MBL/MBT announced Monday an update to its collaborative “Back to the Diamond” initiative that outlines a plan for youth baseball and softball to return to play.

The groups are working with Gov. Tim Walz’s task force to provide a safe and healthy way to return to the field.

The update provided a timeline of events.

May 11 — Statewide communication to baseball and softball associations with guidelines and requirements.

May 18 — Begin baseball and softball practices with no more than 16 people on the field, including coaches and players.

June 1 — League games with spectator traffic and distancing guidelines in effect and managed. Possible trial events to be held the weekend of May 29-31 with tentative tournament start dates on June 5-7.

The group expects to hear word from the governor’s office this week to help determine what changes are needed for the plan.

The group is also communicating with Wisconsin Sports Services for a collaborative effort to communicate with government officials.

Minnesota Softball, in a Facebook post, also addressed a question about Minnesota teams playing in South Dakota, if play is permitted there. Minnesota Softball said Minnesota teams could play in South Dakota provided teams met South Dakota’s requirements to play.

Additionally, a consortium of youth sports organizations across the country have joined the PLAY Sports Coalition.

The PLAY Sports Coalition is asking Congress for support in the form of $8.5 billion in funding to help stabilize youth sports across the country. The PLAY Sports Coalition also has strategies to support families and a plan to return to play. The PLAY Sports Coalition website states nearly 60 percent of locals sports leaders expect to lose at least 50 percent of revenue over the next year, according to a poll by the Aspen Institute for Sports.

The organization has also sent letters to congressional leaders to urge support.

Minnesota youth sports associations formulate a plan

Last Tuesday, Minnesota Softball, in conjunction with Minnesota Youth Athletic Services/Gopher State Baseball, and Metro Baseball League/Minnesota Baseball Tournaments, announced a coordinated effort to create a unified voice for youth baseball and softball in Minnesota to help restore play.

In a post, the group listed four items it wants to accomplish with the union.

• A more unified front in community-based youth baseball and softball throughout the state of Minnesota – building a better state of baseball and softball.

• Clear, concise, and consistent messaging in order to eliminate confusion between leagues, tournaments, the participants, and the associations of youth baseball/softball.

• Joint COVID-19 health and safety guidelines that are intended to provide legislators and decision makers with information about how we intend to adjust youth baseball and softball in an effort to loosen restrictions, while implementing strict safe and healthy social distancing guidelines. The “2020 Back to the Diamond” guidelines have been and are being disseminated to governors’ office, state leaders and local officials.

• Partner, when necessary, in order to provide the best possible experience for today’s youth baseball and softball players.

The 2020 Back to the Diamond guidelines provide a plan for baseball and softball players to return to the field through a multi-step process with safety measures in place. The guidelines are intended to provide legislators and decision makers information on how to enact strict, safe and healthy social distancing guidelines.

“I really feel it’s important we come together,” said Dawson Blanck of Minnesota Youth Athletic Services/Gopher State Baseball.

The three groups have reached out to their local state legislatures and Gov. Tim Walz through letters and a lobbying effort, Blanck said.

The first phase allows for youth baseball and softball teams to begin practicing by following appropriate physical distancing in groups of 10.

The second phase puts a cap on the number of people attending events to 50. Games could begin, though likely without fans.

In this phase when games would take place, all players, coaches and umpires would enter through one entrance and exit through another, observing social distancing guidelines throughout. Parents and spectators would have separate seating away from the backstop and dugouts. Only players, up to three coaches and umpires would be allowed on the field. Spectators can only view the game from the outfield past first and third base along the foul lines.

Only one parent or guardian would be allowed to watch the game and only immediate families and households of the players will be allowed to watch. They must remain 6 feet apart from other spectators.

Dugouts would be extended to behind the dugout to the backstop for both teams to practice proper social distancing. Hand and equipment sanitizing would take place between innings. No more than three to five individuals could be in the dugout at any given time and would have to maintain proper social distancing.

Coaches and umpires will not be able to shake hands or have any physical contact with each other while maintaining proper social distancing. Players and coaches will have to refrain from high five or other physical gestures of celebration.

Teams would no longer shake hands at the end of the game and instead would tip their caps to the opponent following the game.

Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes would be used during and after the game should someone come into contact with shared equipment like bases. Players would wear batting gloves as much as possible and would refrain from sharing equipment.

Each team would need to provide its own balls, which would be switched out or sanitized each inning.

Players, spectators, umpires and coaches would be recommended to wear CDC-approved facemasks.

Umpires would call the game from behind the pitcher’s mound and maintain proper social distancing between all fielders. Umpires should also wear gloves if they intend to handle balls and change gloves after each use following touching a ball.

The third phase lifts the cap on group sizes and sports go back to normal operation. Vulnerable populations can resume public interactions but should practice social distancing and continue to take precautionary measures.

Blanck and Patrick Reese of the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services/Gopher State Baseball, Kim and Jeff Eul of the Metro Baseball League/Minnesota Baseball Tournaments, USA Softball/Minnesota Softball’s Dan Pfeffer and Tom Bye helped to create the guidelines, with help from David J. Jewison, MD CAQ, a sports medicine physician with the University of Minnesota and M Health Fairview.

Reach Sports Editor Nick Gerhardt at 507-835-5447 or follow him on Twitter @WCNSports. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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