The chorus of ‘Play Ball’ was heard throughout the land of Iowa high schools last week as baseball and softball were given the go-ahead by the governor.
“I was so excited about the opportunity for our seniors,” Fairfield head baseball coach Josh Allison said. “For them to be together one more time, for one more season, is a blessing.”
“I was extremely excited,” Washington head baseball coach Nathan Miller said. “We have great kids in the program and our coaching staff was praying that we would be able to have some sort of season to send the seniors out on a positive note and to provide some sort of normalcy for all of the players.”
“We were so excited and happy that the players have an opportunity to play this summer,” Hillcrest head baseball coach Danny Herschberger said.
However, there’s no such thing as a zero-risk outing right now. Last week the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union released a list of rules and guidelines in cooperation with the Department of Education for schools to follow when fielding teams. That was augmented by a nine-page list with 51 Frequently Asked Questions or FAQs released on Tuesday.
Decisions about what is safe will be up to individuals. It can help to think through the risks the way the experts do.
“We can think of transmission risk with a simple phrase: time, space, people, place,” said Dr. William Miller, an epidemiologist at Ohio State University in a recent article.
Here’s his rule of thumb: “The more time you spend and the closer in space you are to any infected people, the higher your risk. Interacting with more people raises your risk, and indoor places are riskier than outdoors.”
High school baseball is obviously played outdoors but athletes and coaches will be tasked with making sure they and teammates stay safe.
The hardest thing to deal with regarding the coronavirus guidelines is “probably just developing a new routine to make sure we follow the guidelines as best as possible to keep everyone safe,” Hershberger said.
“I think the lack of personal contact will be challenging,” Allison said. “No high-fives or fist bumps to celebrate the good things. There will be other challenges as well in dealing with equipment and distancing as well.”
“The hardest thing about the guidelines will be not being able to high five and interact with teammates and coaches like we are used to,” Miller said, “bringing it in close to have postgame talks, celebrate as a team at home plate after a home run.”
The IHSAA and IGHSAU have an online page that will be updated as more information and guidance becomes available.
The coronavirus brings up other problems besides those on the field.
“We still do not know what transportation of players will look like, but at a minimum, players will not be sitting together or able to engage with each other as much on the bus to and from games,” Miller said.
Anyone who has played any high school sport usually cites some of their best memories happening on trips to and from games.
“A lot of climate and culture is built between a team on bus rides,” Miller said.
“This situation gives a realistic meaning to ‘play like it’s your last time’ because you never know when it will be,” Allison said.
Practice is not allowed to begin until June 1 and the first games will be June 15. Helping the athletes get in playing shape is a concern addressed by the coaches.
“We have sent out some drills for them to do,” Hershberger said. “Also a lot of the players have siblings to play catch with to get their arm ready for the season.”
“I hope some of them were able to get some quality work in,” Allison said. “I guess we’ll find that out on Monday. We feel like we have a good plan in place to bring the boys along at their own pace depending on how much time they were able to put in leading up to the season.”
“Once we were given permission from the state to have online meetings, we have been meeting once a week through Google Meet,” Miller said. “You would have to ask players what they have done on their own. Arm conditioning is the biggest concern of mine headed into the season.”
With the late start (in past years the season typically started the week before Memorial Day), the season will be a condensed version from years past.
“We are looking at a 16 to 17 game regular season and are keeping our weekly games to no more than four,” Miller said. “We want to build our arms up to the postseason and not tax our kids’ arms because they may not be ready to handle more than a 50-60 pitch count load right away.”
Regardless of the hurdles, there is ‘joy in Mudville’, to quote a famous baseball poem.
“I am grateful for the opportunity we have been given,” Miller said. “Our coaching staff is ready to implement the guidelines set by the IAHSAA and the Department of Education to help make this season successful.”