Though the mayor’s curfew affected some early-morning baseball plans in Omaha, the state’s American Legion teams will still hit the diamonds Monday.
It’s the first day that youth baseball and softball squads can begin practice, as per Gov. Pete Ricketts’ COVID-19 guidelines. Those guidelines also set June 18 for when games can commence.
Omaha Creighton Prep and Millard West each scheduled a “Midnight Madness” for the opening day of practice. But those plans changed Sunday when Mayor Jean Stothert issued an 8 p.m. curfew in response to recent unrest and protests related to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Coach Pat Mooney said the Junior Jays postponed their practice until 8 a.m. even before the mayor’s directive. One of the city’s protest hot spots has been 72nd & Dodge, less than a mile south of Prep’s campus.
“The bottom line is that we need to be safe,” Mooney said. “It’s a weird and scary time in our city.”
The Wildcats, who won the Class A title last year, will push their practice back 18 hours to 6 p.m.
“Everybody was so stir-crazy that we wanted to get outside as soon as possible,” Millard West coach Steve Frey said. “But that’s not going to happen now.”
Mooney and Frey said their Legion teams are eager to take the field after the spring baseball season was canceled because of coronavirus concerns. That opinion is shared by other coaches, including Papillion-La Vista’s Nate McCabe.
“We’re going to be easing into things,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of (COVID-19) guidelines to follow, and we want to make sure we’re doing things the right way.”
Those guidelines include social distancing for the players and the sanitizing of shared equipment before and after practice.
“We’ve been busy getting information out to the parents to make sure we’re all on the same page,” McCabe said. “But from the strong response that we’ve gotten, everybody is ready to go.”
The season will proceed despite the cancellation of national regionals and the Legion World Series. There will be no area or state tournaments, either.
“In the end, we’re lucky to be playing,” McCabe said. “It’s going to be weird, but we can’t be complaining about the guidelines.”
College athletes also were allowed to begin voluntary workouts Monday, and high schools were permitted to open weight rooms, as long as they followed COVID-19 guidelines.
Andrew Wehrli of the Nebraska Elite Volleyball Club said Monday would begin with coronavirus guideline education for the players. Precautions will include the sanitation of volleyballs between sessions.
“Monday morning is going to be hectic,” he said. “The Governor’s Office has been in contact with us since the very beginning, and we started that process about six weeks ago to try and develop a plan.”
Also starting practice Monday will be some, though not all, area little leagues. Some won’t play this summer in large part because of the lengthy list of regulations.
“We’re all ready to get started,” Keystone Little League President Trent Wulf said. “About 85% of our families decided that they wanted to go ahead and play this summer, so we’re going to make that happen.”
Wulf said his organization knows the importance of giving kids the opportunity to play baseball, though it won’t be easy.
“The biggest challenge for us is that there will be a lot more cost and lot more volunteering needed,” he said. “But we’re determined to see this through.”
Wulf said each team would have three coaches and two “safety parents” to help make sure all guidelines are met.
“I think it will be tougher for the younger kids,” he said. “It’s just going to take some time because it will be an adjustment for everyone.”
That includes Wulf’s 9-year-old daughter, a Keystone softball player.
“She’s been asking me since April when we can start playing,” he said. “I think there are a lot of kids out there like her.”
Wulf said there would be hand sanitizer in the dugouts and hand-washing stations at the complex in northwest Omaha. Game times also will be staggered to make sure there aren’t too many players in one place.
“In some ways, it’s probably going to be a pain,” he said. “But when we see the kids on the field with smiles on their faces, it will all be worth it.”