Professional sports leagues are not alone in trying to figure out how to handle the coronavirus outbreak. Youth baseball and softball leagues across Long Island are also facing difficult decisions about whether or not to play this spring or cancel the season.
On Monday, Little League International, which operates more than 6,500 programs in more than 84 counties, recommended that leagues delay all activities until May 11.
“We recognize that this is the heart of the traditional Little League season, and we share in the great disappointment that many are feeling surrounding this additional pause in the 2020 season,” the Little League International statement said. “However, it is our hope that by doing this, we will all play a small, but important part in flattening the curve in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.”
There are 87 Little Leagues on Long Island, according to the New York State Little League website, and many of those leagues are following the May 11 recommendation while also considering they may have to cancel the season entirely.
Jim Alcus, the president of the West Islip Little League, said the usual spring season is not likely to happen since most leagues begin play in late March or early April.
"I would say almost definitely the spring season will not happen," Alcus said, "and we'll be looking forward to a possible summer season."
Steve Smith, the president of the Connetquot Youth Association, said the situation is too fluid to commit to a specific date for a resumption of league activities.
“Putting dates on things is just going to prolong the situation,” Smith said. “When you get to that date, people are going to be expecting it and it’s not going to be ready to go yet. I don’t think this is something that’s going to go away in the next week or two.”
Smith’s organization runs both local and travel programs for baseball and softball, pulling athletes primarily from Ronkonkoma, Bohemia and Oakdale, he said.
“We decided to shut down, based on the safety of everybody,” Smith said. “The risk far outweighs the rewards."
Smith said that, should the seasons get going at some point this spring, extending into the summer is a possibility, provided there is interest.
"I do think this is going to reshape a little bit of how we live,’” he said. “It’s going to be a little different with people worried about germs and things spreading. If it’s something that we have to shut the season down due to people not enrolling or wanting to continue on, we would give a refund to everyone that has signed up at this point.”
Ari Wind, president of the Plainview Little League, said that a large number of his league’s players attend sleep-away camp, which would make any extension of the season difficult.
“If sleep-away camp is canceled, then obviously we can extend through the summer,” Wind said. “If it’s not, then we can shorten the season. I’ve already decided that, since [Plainview schools] are going to have school on spring break, then if we’re back in session, we’re going to play games that week, where normally we’d shut down. We’re going to eliminate an all-star weekend.”
But, even thinking about an April start may be premature at this point.
“We’re going to be very cautious,” Wind said. “We’re hopeful to get a season in. I’m not going to say we are."
Rich Gentile is the president of East Coast Youth Baseball, a Nassau travel and tournament league with teams in Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, and Brooklyn. While they are not under the umbrella of Little League, Gentile said he is constantly in touch with state and town officials to monitor the situation.
“We do have a contingency plan for an alternate start date," Gentile said. “It’s something we’ve never been through. Nobody has really been through this before. It’s just a tough situation. We have to do this right."
All league officials interviewed by Newsday stressed that the safety of the players, coaches, parents, and grandparents were the most important thing.
“Baseball is America’s pastime,” Alcus said. “There’s nothing like being part of it, coaching it, or watching your child or grandchild play. It’s one of America’s great sports. It’s kind of sad, but the health and safety of the country and our most vulnerable are more important than one season.”