I’m a dad, baseball coach, and lifelong fan sharing my thoughts and experiences with others in hopes of helping families get the most out of their youth baseball experience! I’d love to have you join the community! It’s free!
After two and a half months with no baseball due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both of our boys were back on the ball field this weekend. I’ve been asked by other parents and other tournament directors for details and feedback.
I’ve grouped my “COVID-19” observations into three categories - the facility, the spectators, and the game - for each age group we participated in this weekend (8U & 18U).
If you played this weekend, leave a comment after the article and let us know how it went!
The 18U Experience
The boys and I left our house Friday morning at 5AM for a 200 mile drive to Bristol, TN for our 9AM opening game in an 18U NetElite tournament.
Armed with disinfectant wipes, extra hand sanitizer, our own chairs, and two thermoses of coffee, we arrived a few minutes before 8AM.
There are really two types of tournaments for this age utilizing different types of facilities.
You’ll find large tournaments such as PBR events at Lakepoint Sports Complex and Perfect Game at East Cobb Baseball Complex just outside of Atlanta where there are dozens of teams playing on as many as 8 fields at one time.
This tournament fit the second category - smaller in nature and typically utilizing multiple single field facilities across a geographic region such as high schools and small college fields.
In this case, there were only two fields that would allow play at this stage of the pandemic.
There was no gate fee to enter the games. I’ve paid at NetElite tournaments before, so I’m not sure if this was a COVID-19 decision to minimize swapping money, or if there was another reason. Either way, we parked and walked right up to the field.
They had one-person bathrooms, and they were very clean (to start the day at least) with soap available for hand-washing.
There was no concession stand, so no observations to report on there.
Keep in mind, 18U games are not like 8U games. Besides the occasional college coach or scout, there are barely any spectators. The ones that are in attendance are parents, and even then many players drive to the games alone.
This game was no different. If anything it was even worse being out of town in a rural area at 9AM on a Friday. I’d estimate there were a total of 30 spectators.
Nobody had a face mask on, but it certainly wasn’t needed as everyone was well spread out. I noticed a few parents standing next to each other talking, but nothing more than you see out anywhere else.
This is where I expected to see a few things different, however it was business as usual from what I could tell.
The game play itself was no different than a usual game, but that was to be expected. Baseball is a non-contact sport, and close contact is rare.
I was surprised to see both head coaches and umpires meet at home plate before the game. This included all four of them shaking hands and meeting together like they would have pre-pandemic.
I could not really see in the dugout, but there was nothing different there either. Being the “germaphobe” I am (and was pre-COVID) I had given our son a small sanitizer bottle and some disinfectant wipes.
He said he used the wipes, and the guys mostly refrained from high fives and such.
Verdict: No different than before COVID-19.
The 8U Experience
Since I coach our 8U team, we drove back from Bristol after the game Friday, and my wife and I switched kids for the remainder of the weekend.
Our 8 year old’s team played about 45 minutes away in Dunlap, TN. This was a 12-team 7U/8U tournament hosted at one park which had five youth fields all in one complex.
Overall I was really impressed with the park itself. There were five fields all together, but they were spread out better than most and there was plenty of room for everyone.
There were two entry points where $5 admission was charged and cash was the only option to pay (this is normal, and many local parks don’t yet have the ability to accept credit cards).
The bathrooms were clean and soap was readily available.
The concession stand was also open with a limited menu. While we took a cooler and snacks, I did try to purchase some sunflower seeds before our third game of the day. They didn’t have any and told me the park wasn’t allowing them to sell seeds due to COVID-19.
More than the 18U tournament, I felt like parents and coaches were taking better precautions in general to social distance between and during games.
Very few people sit on bleachers anyways, and most had their own chairs grouped together by family. There were no handshakes, and everyone respected the 6 foot(ish) rule when talking.
I also saw plenty of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes throughout the day. Part of this could be that the kids are younger and require more parental supervision.
I would argue differently, that my 8 year old is more diligent with hygiene than any 17 year old I know! 😂
There was the usual pregame meeting between coaches and umpires, but there were no handshakes and physical distancing was observed.
In-game precautions for the players was largely left up to each team and coaching staff.
We had plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes on hand, and continuously reminded players to not get too close to each other.
We also did not allow sharing of equipment. Every player must use their own bat and their own helmet.
I did notice several teams still having team huddles, but most coaches kept the kids physically separate by a few feet.
When the games were over, there was not the usual handshake line. Each team lined up on their foul line and tipped their caps to the other team.
The tournament director also made it clear that each team was responsible for wiping down the dugout after each game.
Verdict: Very different than before COVID-19, but not anything that took away from the game experience in a negative way. Reasonable precautions were taken.
There were plenty of other tournaments held across the country and all could have had a slightly different experience.
My opinion is still that most people are following recommendations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
I would have preferred a better effort from the NetElite tournament to follow certain recommendations, and after talking to other baseball parents playing in larger tournaments, I think it just depends on where you’re playing.
For example, Lakepoint Sports (mentioned above) is using these safety guidelines as they’ve opened back up.
Many younger tournaments being played at local parks have partnered with local city and county officials to create a set of guidelines they’ll follow.
I’m not a medial expert, just a parent trying to stay informed. I appreciate you reading about our first weekend back, and would love to continue the conversation.
If your son played this weekend, use the button below to leave a comment and let us know about your experience!
Thank you for reading this edition of Elbow Up. I’m working on some premium features including videos, podcasts, and a private Facebook group. Stay tuned for more information!
If you don’t get our emails, be sure to get the next one by subscribing below!