With the news out of the governor’s office Wednesday that gatherings of more than 10 people are no longer prohibited, the possibility of an American Legion baseball season is a step closer to becoming a reality.
“We’re moving forward,” said Evanston Outlaws head coach Chad Thompson. “I guess the governor bumped us up to 25 [people allowed to gather at once], which still isn’t enough to play. But we’re getting closer.”
The newly-revised orders will be in place until the end of the month, at which time the state of Wyoming will reassess; Thompson said he — as well as every other Legion coach in the state — hopes to know by June 1 when teams can begin playing actual games.
“We’re thinking the first of June, as it stands right now,” he said. “It’s a step in the right direction, for sure.”
It’s been a frenetic week for baseball teams around the state, beginning with the announcement last Sunday by American Legion Baseball’s national office that they were pulling the plug on the 2020 season. Any states that chose to move forward with a season would do so without American Legion’s involvement.
“Sunday was a shock for everyone, I think,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t even an email that was sent out — another team in the state was trying to register their team for the season, and saw on the national website that they were pulling out. That’s why we had the emergency Zoom meeting Sunday night.”
Wyoming State Baseball Chairman Cody Beers facilitated Sunday’s emergency call, and said the solidarity exhibited by the state’s 40 baseball programs was inspiring. Each team was in favor of moving forward with a season, though a pair of programs may be missing once a season begins.
“I would characterize it as my proudest moment as state chairman of American Legion baseball,” Beers explained. “Our guys are unified. We’re probably going to lose a couple of teams — Green River has indicated that they’re out, and Laramie may be out of it, from a practical standpoint. It was just a proud moment to see that we’re all in it together. The Wyoming Legion baseball family is strong.”
Most of the teams in the state began practice last week, with practices restricted to nine people on the field at once; Wednesday’s decision by the state to relax those restrictions means all teams can now practice with a full complement of players on the field beginning Friday.
“Nothing about this baseball season is normal this year,” Beers noted. “We’ve had to remain flexible. The good news is, we’ve started practice — some of our teams started last week, some this week with the groups of nine. Then the good news [Wednesday] is that the state health order has expanded, so now we can have full team practices, with up to 25 on the field.”
The Evanston Outlaws were an exception to the rule — the state approved a variance from Uinta County on May 6 that allowed for larger groups to assemble, opening the door for the Outlaws to practice with 20 that same day. Now — with the rest of the state on the same schedule — teams can now prepare for actual games, though it remains to be seen when that will be.
“The governor’s office is not spending one iota of time thinking about baseball — and that’s OK, we understand that,” he said. “We’re good with that. But the new health orders are in effect through May 31, so we’re hopeful. If everyone out there is doing what they should to stay safe, we should see an expanded health order [after May 31], and that should open the way for us to have a season.”
The Outlaws are scheduled to play in a tournament in Gillette over the Memorial Day weekend, and may still get that chance, though Thompson admits it’s a long shot.
“The Gillette coach reached out on Wednesday and said ‘Don’t give up, we’re filing for a variance today to be able to play,’” he said. “They have to file that through the state. It hasn’t been officially canceled, so we’ll see how it goes. But the state will either let us play, or they won’t. And because of schedules, it’s not a tournament that can be made up.”
Beers said a variance would be a good barometer of where the state is with further lifting restrictions.
“I told Nate Perleberg [Gillette Riders head coach] Wednesday that if they wanted to pursue a variance, they could,” Beers said. “It’s kind of a good test to see if baseball ranks up there with some of the more necessary things that variances cover. We’ll see how that goes.”
Legion teams will continue to play the waiting game, though the odds of playing a season continue to grow. That said, the wait is beginning to take its toll.
“We’re starting to see a little frustration with some of the boys,” Thompson said.
“They want to get out and play. You can only practice them for so long before they start revolting against you. They want to play someone other than themselves for a change. In about 24 hours, we went from getting ready to play, to I don’t think we’re going to have a season, to OK, we are having a season. It’s definitely been a roller coaster.”
Registration for new players is now closed, but folks interested in buying Outlaws gear can now do so on the team’s website, www.evanstonoutlaws.com. The Outlaws are also selling raffle tickets for their July fundraiser, with a drawing a day for the entire month of July. Tickets are $10 each or five for $40; a list of the prizes can be found on the website.
“We give away 31 prizes, roughly about $11,000 worth of prizes,” Thompson said. “That’s our big fundraiser for the summer, and people really seem to enjoy it. We’re also sponsored by local businesses, though that’s a little harder this year, for obvious reasons.”
Beers said he will put out a request for comment to all Wyoming teams on Friday regarding the playing of games and tournaments.
“When we start playing games, it’s not going to be like anything any of us have ever experienced,” he said. “We’re going to be playing without fans, bleachers will be closed. At some parks, people may be able to sit around the outfield fence, we’ll see. You’ll see our umpires wearing masks and gloves — you’ll see some very visible restrictions. It is what it is, and we’re doing everything we can to be safe.”
Laramie was scheduled to host the AA State Tournament in August, though Beers said the tournament has now been moved to Rock Springs.