Legion baseball gets green light for season

Evanston Outlaw pitcher Gus Allred works on his form during a recent bullpen session at Ross Kesterson Field. The Outlaws will travel to Gillette this weekend for a season-opening tournament. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

It’s been a roller coaster process to get to this point, but Wyoming American Legion baseball has been cleared to play competitive ball.

With updated guidelines in place, Legion baseball can begin playing games on Wednesday, May 20, according to state chairman Cody Beers. That’s good news for the Evanston Outlaws AA team, who will now open the 2020 season this weekend at a Memorial Day tournament in Gillette.

“We put together a plan, and I was able to meet with the right people and get everything interpreted as far as the ehealth orders go,” Beers said. “I put the plan out on Friday, and told our teams they could begin playing on Wednesday. I don’t have any qualms at all — we’re pretty bold in this move, but I’m confident that our teams and coaches will do the right thing. We’re going to play baseball, and we’re going to do it right.”

Beers singled out the Evanston and Rock Springs programs for their part in the process.

“They [Rock Springs and Evanston] were talking through their county attorneys to the Wyoming Attorney General,” Beers said. “I was able to use the information that they were gathering to make a more informed decision. I had a really good conversation with [Uinta County attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas] and she was awesome. We went point by point through things I was thinking about doing, and we were able to come to a conclusion that will allow us to play baseball.”

Under the new guidelines, safety continues to be the “No. 1 priority,” according to Beers. Players (and their parents) will be required to sign waivers to play, and social distancing protocol will be strictly enforced. Those restrictions include no handshakes, teams must stay away from each other and entrance and exit plans will be in place for each team.

“We’ll try to keep it minimal, who will be in the actual dugout,” said Evanston Outlaws head coach Chad Thompson. “We may have to spread players out in chairs outside of the dugout who aren’t in the game. Hand sanitizer will be available for players as they come on and off the field. Normally we would have water jugs in the dugout — we won’t be doing that. Players have to bring their own water.”

As for games, through May 31st, a maximum of 25 people are allowed on the field at one time, including players, coaches and two umpires; that number will be reassessed on June 1st.

“It sounds like the home plate umpire will be wearing a mask and gloves, just because of the close contact between those three individuals — the catcher, batter and umpire,” Thompson said. “Only the teams that are playing will be allowed at the field at game time.”

Though it appeared early on in the process that games would have to be played without the benefit of fans, that now seems to no longer be the case.

“It does sound like we’ll be able to have fans at games — they’ll just have to social distance themselves,” Thompson said. “I do know that we are planning right now to close down our seating [the bleachers behind the home plate backstop] so we don’t have people down all sitting together. But they can spread out on the hillsides up top. That’s our plan right now for the time being — it’s the easiest way to police it.”

Thompson told the Outlaws the news on Friday, and the reaction from the team was about what one might expect.

“The players were pretty excited,” Thompson said. “It’s like, ‘All right, finally.’ It’s just been a roller coaster. We’re gonna play — no, we’re not going to play. We’re gonna have a season — no wait, we’re not gonna have a season. It was definitely a good day.”

The Outlaws will now have a few more practices before they head to Gillette for the weekend.

“This weekend in Gillette will be our first go,” Thompson said. “Officially we can’t start games until May 20th, so with the short notice, we decided to stick with the tournament being our opener.”

The Gillette tournament is scheduled to feature six Wyoming AA teams — Jackson, Gillette, Sheridan, Casper, Cheyenne and Evanston — with the Outlaws playing two games Saturday, two on Sunday and one on Monday. Thompson said he and his staff will shore up their roster this week, though it will continue to be a fluid process.

“We’re starting to get some things in line — seeing where we’re at, what our needs are,” he explained. “We’ll find out a lot this coming weekend, for sure. The tournament will definitely be a stepping stone for us. We’ll just keep rolling from there.”

The Gillette tournament will serve as a litmus test for teams, as social distancing becomes the new normal. Beers said all eyes will be on the tournament, and if all goes well, the season will continue.

“If we do it right, we’ll have a complete season,” he said. “That’s our goal — to crown state champions in August. Then next year, we’ll get back to normal.”

“It’s been an intensive thing that I never thought any of us would have to deal with in our lifetime,” he added. “But we’re up to the challenge. Now we’re going to play baseball, and that’s the most important thing.”

If done correctly, the start of baseball will serve as an example to the rest of the state on how to reopen safely, according to Beers. The state chairman also wanted to take a moment to thank those who have been instrumental in getting the season off and running.

“I want to thank our Legion posts across the state, as well as our state commander and our state adjutants for supporting this,” he said. “Without it, this would not be happening — it’s a total endeavor now of the Wyoming Department of American Legion.”

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