Youth baseball teams set to begin seasons next week

A Spearfish Little League baseball player sprints to first base during a 2019 game. Spearfish and other area communities are getting ready for youth baseball seasons that will begin later than usual. Precautions are being put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pioneer file photo

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SPEARFISH — The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled a lot of activities. The Spearfish Youth Baseball and Softball Association (SYBSA) season and Belle Fourche baseball and softball seasons, however, are not on those lists, as seasons are scheduled to begin next week.

SYBSA Director of Baseball Chris Olson said Majors’ and Minors’ baseball teams started practices last week, with games to begin the week of June 8. Tee ball and Pee Wee baseball teams start practicing this week for the first games on June 8.

All of the games are at the Pope & Talbot Sports Complex, just west of Black Hills State University.

Spearfish’s lineup for this season features two Majors’ teams, five Minors’ teams, four Pee Wee squads, and three Tee Ball teams.

Olson estimated registration numbers are down roughly 10 percent from last year. He attributed it to the COVID-19 pandemic and what the organization must do to be able to play, with the restrictions in place.

Fans will experience an environment that is different from past years. Olson talked about some of those changes.

“We’re not going to allow fans to sit in the bleachers at the two bigger fields,” Olson said. “They will have to sit in chairs and space out along the foul lines.”

Only three players (the next three in the batting order) will be allowed in a dugout at one time. Olson said the dugout area would be extended down the foul lines.

Banners listing the guidelines are being prepared. He said they would be placed at all baseball and softball fields.

“Everyone has their own stuff,” Olson said when asked about water bottles and other items. “No sunflower seeds are allowed: fans or players.”

A concession stand will not be part of the scene for this year.

Children will not be allowed to run around at the fields. They need to sit with their families, according to Olson.

Spearfish teams in the Majors’ and Minors’ divisions will play only Belle Fourche and Sturgis for this season. Olson agreed this is to keep the slate as local as possible.

Where will umpires be stationed during these days of social distancing emphasis?

“Little League gave us two options; it’s kind of at the ump’s discretion,” Olson said. “He can stand back behind the catcher, or he can stand behind the pitcher and ump from there.”

Sanitizing materials will be available at the fields. Olson said in-game meetings, like between a pitcher and coach, must have the participants 6 feet apart.

A “dugout monitor” will help remind players of the guidelines. Olson said the three-coach limit in a dugout has been lifted for this year.

Some Belle Fourche teams started practicing the week May 11. Board president Jason LaFayette said baseball and softball teams plan to start their seasons next week.

Belle Fourche tee ball teams start practices on June 1, with games to begin on June 5. Minors’ squads begin their seasons on June 1; Majors’ teams start on June 2.

LaFayette said the Belle Fourche lineup will feature two Minors’ teams, two Machine Pitch teams, two Majors’ teams, and six tee ball teams.

“We still took a bunch of late signups,” LaFayette said when asked how the COVID-19 pandemic affected signup numbers. He added those numbers are lower, but the pandemic was not the sole reason.

Tee ball teams usually play in May and June. LaFayette said this year’s schedule calls for those games in June and July, which interfered with family plans like moves and vacations.

Belle Fourche Minors’ and Majors’ teams will face opponents from Spearfish and Sturgis only. LaFayette said that is to keep the schedule as local as possible, in the interest of safety.

A “Return to Play Plan” outlines safety measures and explains several changes to expect for this season. Posters around the Belle Fourche complex will remind everyone in attendance of these protocols.

Sanitizing products will be in dugouts, the concession stand, and restrooms. Sanitation must take place before and after each practice and game.

“Equipment is being sanitized after every single use,” LaFayette said. “We’re highly recommending that kids have their own helmets and gloves.” All shared equipment must be sanitized before another player uses it. Players must being their own water bottle and not share with another player.

Players must refrain from contact with teammates. Tee ball and Machine Pitch teams will have a parent or bench coach in the dugout to remind players of this.

Fountain beverages will not be served from the concession stands. Bottled drinks are to be sold; volunteers must wear masks and gloves. LaFayette said sneeze guards are being considered.

Packaged items that can be sanitized will be sold at the concession stands. Hot dogs, nachos, and similar items will not be available.

Bleacher seating will not be available. LaFayette said spectators will bring their own chairs and align themselves 6 feet apart outside the fence.

Handshakes, high fives, and fist bumps are strongly discouraged. Sportsmanship gestures may include words of encouragement.

Phase One addresses practice sessions, which are closed to the public so crowd sizes are lowered.

Phase One addresses practice sessions, with Phase Two concerning game structure.

The City of Belle Fourche is working with the sports group to make sure the fields are regularly sanitized, LaFayette said. He added the restrooms are sanitized each day, with sanitation products available for spectators.

 “We are not allowing the kids to run around the complex like everybody’s accustomed to,” LaFayette said. “The kids must be with an adult at all times.”

Belle Fourche has modified its schedule to keep crowds as small as possible.

Machine Pitch games will be on Wednesdays, with tee ball games set for Fridays. Minors’ and Majors’ contests are set for Monday, Wednesdays and/or Fridays: only two days per week.

The Majors’ field located outside the complex will host as many Minors’ and Majors’ games as possible, LaFayette said.

“It sits outside the complex,” he said in describing the field. “This is to keep more folks out of the complex.”

LaFayette said each parent received the guidelines at the first practices. The city posted signs throughout the complex.

Umpires will sanitize the baseballs each one-half inning. LaFayette agreed home-plate umpires will stay where they have been, but sanitizing will take first priority.

See a future edition of the Black Hills Pioneer for an update regarding the upcoming girls’ softball seasons.

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