Wyoming governor Mark Gordon may have made the summer for baseball players and coaches alike last week with his announcement that he was easing restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
American Legion Baseball coaches from around the state will be participating in a Zoom meeting with state chairman Cody Beers this Saturday, with an eye toward starting practices Monday, May 4. Restrictions on how many people can be on the field at a given time will most likely be in place — Evanston Outlaws head coach Chad Thompson said the restrictions will make practices interesting, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“Wyoming is still moving forward with having some sort of season,” he said earlier this week. “It will be shortened, of course. Basically, we’re waiting on the governor to lift some restrictions so that we can start practicing. We’re hoping Monday will be the day.”
The national arm of American Legion Baseball canceled the 2020 World Series and eight regional tournaments in early April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The decision to cancel was extremely difficult but deemed necessary, first and foremost in the interest of health and safety, and in the face of uncertainty,” the ALB said in a press release. “As National Americanism Commission Chairman Richard Anderson noted, ‘These times are unparalleled. And while it is distressing to think of all those youth across the nation who are disappointed to learn of the cancellation of American Legion programs this year, it would be a much, much greater tragedy if even just one of those youth were to fall ill during a program. The Americanism Commission feels this is the right thing to do.’”
Following the cancellation of the national tournaments, states were left to decide on their own whether to continue working toward having a season. As of this week, a total of 16 states across the country have canceled their Legion seasons.
“[Wyoming] still wants to crown state champions at the end of the season at all levels — AA, A, B and C,” Thompson said. “Regionals and the World Series have been canceled. So basically it’s up to each state with how they want to proceed.”
Once the season is given clearance to start, Legions teams at all levels will have to complete a mandatory five practices before games can begin.
“That will go on a per-team basis — if you don’t think your team is ready, you won’t play,” Thompson said.
The Outlaws began informal practices for the 2020 season earlier this year, well before the pandemic began shutting sports down nationwide.
“We had actually started practicing indoors three days a week back in February,” Thompson explained. “The youth center allowed us to go in there and throw. We brought a portable pitching mound in and were throwing off that — hitting into nets, hitting whiffle balls. Just trying to get a few days here and there to get better.”
The decision to shut down all Legion operations indefinitely was made back in March, to coincide with the postponement and eventual cancellation of the spring sports seasons by the Wyoming High School Activities Association. Players have been encouraged since then to work out on their own in case a season became a reality.
“A few boys now and again will get together and throw, just trying to keep their arms loose and in shape,” Thompson said. “But that’s entirely on them — we can’t as coaches be there, that was one of the rules. But we send a lot of text messages, and we get a bunch every day — kids want to know when they can start. The boys are itching.”
The Outlaws finished with a 22-26 record last season, and went 1-2 in the state tournament, beating Cody but losing in the double-elimination tournament to Sheridan and Laramie.
“We lost the third game by two runs, if I remember correctly, so we were in it,” Thompson said. “It was the wrong time of year for our bats to decide to go silent.”
Thompson said he’ll have a few veterans back this season, but for the most part will be looking for the team’s youth movement to step up.
“We’ll be a younger team than in years past — we’ll have three kids that graduated last year back for one more season, they’re still eligible,” he said. “We’ll have two seniors that will be graduating this year — other than that we’ll be juniors and sophomores. That’s the ebb and flow of Legion baseball.”
“Most of these kids, I’ve been coaching them since they were 8 or 9-years-old,” Thompson added. “If nothing else, they are a salty group. One thing I can say about them is, from years past, this is a group that will fight to the end, for sure.”
The Outlaws were scheduled to play their home opener last weekend; had they been able to play, Thompson said it would have been a rare April home game with perfect weather.
“We were supposed to have a game last Saturday here in Evanston,” Thompson said. “Believe it or not, the weather would have cooperated. Having a home game in April with nice weather would have been an unusual event.”
One casualty of a truncated season would be out-of-state tournaments — with quarantine restrictions in place, the Outlaws may not be traveling out of state like years past.
“We had some games that were scheduled in Utah — I don’t know if those will happen,” Thompson said. “It will be a waiting game. We may run into a quarantine situation, and if that’s still the case, we probably won’t be playing in those. Which is a shame, because the boys like going to those little tournaments.”
Competing in games without fans may be another reality for the Legion teams, at least in the short term. A loss of concessions could also be an issue.
“There is the possibility at the beginning of the season that we don’t have fans,” Thompson said. “We just don’t know yet. If they put restrictions on the number of people that can be at games, you’re probably not allowing fans at that point. But luckily with the radio station, we can get those games out to fans.”
The state tournament will also be pushed back to allow teams to get in as many games as possible before the start of the postseason.
“I’m about 99 percent certain they’re moving the state AA tournament a week further back,” Thompson said. “It was set for the last week in July, and will now probably be the first week in August. That will give teams another week to get conference games in.”