By James Kay
It looks different, but Little League baseball and softball is back in Riverside and Brookfield.
After months of discussions around safety and hearing feedback from the community, Little League presidents John Evans of Riverside and Katie Nasti of Brookfield said they are moving forward.
"Riverside Little League has been a big part of our community," said Evans. "Obviously, player safety is our number-one priority and, early in the spring, we surveyed all of our families and asked them if they were interested in having baseball and softball this year. The vast majority of the responses were positive, so we decided to move forward."
Riverside is already in its fourth week of the season, while Brookfield is preparing for an Aug. 1 start.
With safety in mind, Evans has advised families to make sure the players aren't experiencing any COVID-related symptoms. Home plate umpires are positioned behind the pitcher to keep them physically distant from players. While he hasn't heard a ton of feedback from the umpires in the incipient stages of this year's season, Evans said it is working out so far.
"I think if you ask the umpires, it's a little bit harder to call a game from [behind the pitcher]," said Evans. "But so far it has worked out well. We use a professional umpire service, and we haven't had any issues so far."
The Illinois Department of Public Health's Phase 4 guidelines state that sports venues can be filled to a maximum of 20 percent capacity by spectators. It goes on to say that, "spectators from the same household should sit together" and "social distance of at least six feet should be maintained between non-household individuals unless participating in activities."
Evans and Nasti are both encouraging everyone to wear masks when residents go to the fields.
"We have been good about [people wearing masks] so far," said Evans. "We obviously want everyone to wear a mask, and we are even seeing some of the players wear them when they are on the field all the time. The state doesn't require everyone to wear masks when they are around the field, so it varies team to team."
Nasti said Brookfield Little League will be taking similar measures in regard to umpires being behind the pitcher and making sure people are following social distancing protocols.
The dugouts will only be used for catchers to change into their equipment, while the first row of the stands will be designated for only the players. There will be markers in the stands so people remain six feet of apart.
"We are making sure the players are safe but still together as a team," said Nasti. "We want the kids to have a great experience while making sure everyone's healthy and not coming to a game or practice with symptoms."
While the situation can change at any point in time, Nasti said she is thrilled to have baseball and softball back in Brookfield.
"We're happy to be moving forward," said Nasti. "I think the hardest thing was the back and forth of not having an answer either way of whether we could play or not. Being able to go to the fields, drop off equipment and even moving boxes ... it was a great feeling."
North Riverside's Little League president, Anthony Ritacca, did not respond to the Landmark's inquiries on the matter. North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. announced in April that the Little League season was going to be canceled due to the pandemic.
"It's not going to open soon," said Hermanek of the statewide stay-at-home order issued in March by Gov. J.B Pritzker. "And even if it does begin to open slowly, it's not going to be enough to let baseball be open."