Return To Play 2020

Posted June 22, 2020

Return To Play 2020
On Friday June 19, 2020 Baseball Alberta released their highly anticipated Return To Play document which outlines the plan for baseball players across the province to hit the field for summer baseball. There was a high level of excitement for the upcoming possibility of seeing baseball, even if it was exhibition baseball, for a 2020 season. Reviews of the guidelines however has been less than optimistic from baseball fans and teams in the Powerline Baseball League. 
Last week President Stephen Hrabec put out an email to all of the teams seeking an interest level to either put a full team in a modified season or have any interested players join one of the full teams. The goal was to build a cohort of up to 50 players, coaches and umpires with 3-4 teams. It appeared that the Blue Jays, Braves and Roadrunners would have a team play the season while players from the Athletics, Axemen, Expos and Royals would top up the rosters. Things were looking positive however chatter amongst the league after review of the Return To Guidelines has seen a shift towards less interest in returning to the field. 
Return To Play Plan
Currently baseball associations and teams are in the Return To Train phase. Teams are expected to be isolated in their team cohorts and are permitted to practice with social distancing and sanitizing practices in place. 
The next phase of the plan from Baseball Alberta is the first phase of Return To Play. This phase starts on July 1 across the province and will include exhibition games under certain restrictions and will be limited to cohorts within an association. There is also no umpire scheduling allowed at this phase either. 
The third and final phase of Return To Play is tentatively, hopefully, planned for a July 15 start date and would now include exhibition games with teams outside of a specific association. Once again there would be no league games allowed and any plan would need to be approved by the Baseball Alberta Board of Directors. 
The Concern
It feels like there was a certain level of anticipation when it came to hitting the field for exhibition games under the Return To Play phase. Players and teams appeared to be ready to accept the requirements of pre-screening players prior to each session, social distancing requirements during practices and games, include more sanitizing and to have contact tracing protocols in place. It would require some getting used to and the game would happen a little slower while teams and umpires adapted to the new changes but there seemed to be a tolerance of the requirements as it was understood it was necessary. 
An example of a change that would come to the game is the responsibility of teams with their baseballs. The fielding team would be required to supply and retrieve their own baseballs, including balls put out of play. A coach, bench player or player on the field from the fielding team would be required to retrieve any foul ball. Fans would be discouraged from retrieving baseballs for the teams and if a foul ball was hit in-between the the base coach and the batting team’s dugout, it would be expected that a fielder would grab it. It would taking getting used to and it would prevent the umpire from having to touch a baseball as well. 
But on Friday with the release of the Return To Play guide, there were certain changes now that stood out to players and teams. 
  • The batters box would be moved up ten inches from where it normally sits and the catcher would be required to squat two metres (six and a half feet) behind the back of the batter’s box. Teams could also have the option of place something like a Bownet behind the plate where the catcher would normally be situated with a player standing at least two metres (six and a half feet) away from the batter to make a play at the plate. 
  • All plays on the bases would be treated as force plays, no tagging a runner would be permitted. Cones, or a chalk line, would be placed away from the baseline and halfway between first and second, second and third and third and home plate. These would act as a guide for the umpire to use his judgement when making a safe or out call. If a fielder receives the ball at the base that the runner is advancing to and the runner has past the halfway cone/chalk line, the runner will be called out immediately. 
  • Runners are permitted to run through second base and third base as if the base was first base. It will be a judgement call by the umpire to determine if the runner is trying to advance or if they were simply running through the base. When the runner is called safe at second or third, they will be allowed to safely return to the base when the fielder covering the base returns to their fielding position. 
  • There would be no leadoffs from first base, and only leadoffs from second and third if agreed to by the coaches prior to the game. A runner is permitted to lead off first base only after the ball has passed home plate on a pitch. No stolen bases are permitted and no advancing on passed balls or wild pitches. Pickoffs are not permitted with by the pitcher or the catcher as well. 
The full guidelines document can be found on the Baseball Alberta website here.
It will be interesting to see if the players and teams come to terms with the new guidelines and want to push through with exhibition games starting in mid-July. There has been push back on social media with the new guidelines as some appear to feel that they are too restrictive and fundamentally changing the game of baseball too much. 
But will there be enough interest to proceed with a three team cohort for exhibition games? That is something that the PBL Executive and teams are working diligently on right now with the expectation that a decision will be made shortly. 
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