There will be no spitting sunflower seeds, high fives or even butt slaps, but yes baseball is back in Colorado.
The Rocky Mountain Baseball League is set to start its season next week, and it might even have a few fans in the stands — socially distanced, of course — when the first pitch is thrown Monday night in Kersey.
Colorado’s top collegiate summer baseball league will be among the first organized sporting events played in the state since the coronavirus shuttered everything in March.
From issues as big as the reigning champions suspending operations for the year (the Fort Collins Foxes) to something as small as changing the official league baseball to a cheaper model that allows it to use more balls, the league has thought a lot about making it through the summer.
Many summer leagues like the Northwoods, Cape Cod and Alaska are either postponed or canceled. The RMBL is going ahead, mainly for the players. They wanted an outlet for high-level college baseball players who didn’t have a spring season to get some games. The league acknowledges the risks and has taken precautions.
“We’ve made it very clear to players that we cannot guarantee 100 percent safety,” league president Mark Cerullo told The Post. “We have put safety controls in place, we’re gonna try to control the environment around us. We have hand sanitizer and everyone at the field will be temperature checked before taking the field.”
The fields themselves will be different, too. Normally the league has teams from Boulder to Sterling to Parker playing on home fields. Due to differing local health guidelines, however, most of the league will play June games at Big Foot Turf Farm in Kersey. And fans are allowed, as long as they socially distance.
Fans will not be able to attend games at all of the league’s venues this summer, however. RMBL plans to host fan-less games at UC Health Park in Colorado Springs with its main tenant, the Rocky Mountain Vibes of the Pioneer League, likely unable to have a season. Games at Double Angel Ballpark in Parker will also go without spectators for now. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Hays Larks from Kansas play in a county that will have zero health restrictions come June 15, and teams will travel there.
“For all of our players and our parents we believe that what we’re doing is what we need to do to take the precautions to keep players safe and healthy in these challenging times,” Boulder Collegians General Manager Matt Jensen told players and staff in a Zoom conference call this week. “We’re gonna keep adhering to state and county guidelines.”
Teams will be expected to monitor players. If one is suspected of contracting the coronavirus, they will be quarantined until a doctor clears them.
The Collegians had 60 masks made by a former coach’s grandmother, which players must wear at all times except in the outfield, at bat and while pitching. Teams aren’t providing food, drinks or even equipment this year. They’ve taken other precautions, too, limiting the number and size of practices.
Boulder’s team has been hit particularly hard as much of its budget comes from its league-best attendance. Given Boulder County’s stricter health guidelines, there will be no gate this summer. Jensen encouraged his team’s fans to watch its Youtube live streams and to refrain from traveling to games on the road.
The logistics have been nearly impossible for some teams as their rosters and staff were halved or even more. Most college players stay with host families in the summer, and that wasn’t feasible this summer, meaning different players were acquired within the last month.
The teams are playing for a bid into the National Baseball Congress World Series, which is still scheduled. The league normally has two bids, but the RMBL has already canceled their postseason tournament, which awards a bid.
“You guys are in your prime,” Jensen told his team. “It should be one of the most amazing times of your life. And this should be a really fun, scrappy summer for everybody and I’m excited that we’re able to put this together.”