In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, all signs are pointing toward the Show-Me Collegiate League enjoying a splendid summer.
Opening day for the Show-Me League will still be its original date of June 1, with a double-header on tap.
With Missouri and Christian Country government officials having allowed state-at-home orders to expire, Show-Me League president Mark Stratton feels players, coaches and fans alike will receive the same fulfillment from a day at the ballpark that they've grown accustomed to.
"It will be a fun opportunity for people to get outside, watch a little baseball, enjoy a hot dog and their favorite beverage and have a wonderful time at the park," Stratton said. "We will do all we can to maintain safety guidelines so everyone can have a good, quality time."
U.S. Baseball Park will be the exception as a venue hosting games. MLB has yet to announce the start of its season and reports are minor-league baseball will not be held this year. Many collegiate leagues around the country, most notably the Cape Cod League, have cancelled their 2020 season, while others have pushed back the start of their seasons by a month.
"Some leagues have said they might get going by the middle or late July," Stratton said. "But that’s not very efficient thinking for college kids who have to be back at school usually by Aug. 15."
With other leagues not holding games or in delay mode, the Show-Me League has attracted more attention and players than ever before. Thus, the team count has jumped from four a year ago to seven.
The Queen City Crush will be back to defend its championship from a year ago. Also returning are the Springfield Cobras and Ozark Wild. The Midwest Nationals are back, but will now field Red, White and Blue teams. A newcomer is the Route 66 Stars.
The quality of play also could be on the rise. More players than ever before from major NCAA D-I conferences from around the country will be represented.
"We will have players coming in from schools in the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, Atlantic 10 and, of course, the (Missouri) Valley, some exceptional (NCAA) D-II schools and some premier juco schools," Stratton said.
The fact that the Show-Me League can confine all of its teams to one venue will help immeasurably in making sure all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols are followed.
"When we first started this league, some people were saying, ‘What are you doing, having no travel?’" Stratton said. "Now, the greatest thing we have going is no travel. The worm has turned."
Everyone will be made aware of the changes implemented in regard to CDC guidelines upon arriving at the ball park. There will be a single entrance/exit, where fans will have their temperature checked by an instant laser thermometer.
"It will take the same amount of time it takes to scan your ticket," Stratton said. "We will follow what it is acceptable according to the CDC guidelines to the tee. If you don’t meet that criteria, we won’t have any other recourse than to not let someone enter. Everybody that comes in, from our staff to umpires to players to fans, will have their temperature taken. If you’re making a delivery for Will Fischer to the park, you have to get tested."
With an emphasis on social distancing, fans will receive instructions on where to sit.
"If you have ridden together in the same car, we will have a family pod in the park for you to sit. We want families to stay together. Separating them makes no sense," Stratton said. "If you come by yourself, we will mark our entire seating, so if there is a mark, you can sit there."
Sanitizing stations will be available throughout the park.
"We’re going to look like a hospital with the number of sanitizing stations we will have set up," Stratton said.
All staff will wear masks and gloves within the customer service and concession areas.
Masks will also be seen on the field.
"All umpires will wear a mask," Stratton said. "We are not forcing umpires to wear gloves. Intermittently, in between innings we will bring them a Germax pocket version. Just like when we bring them a bottle of water, now we’ll bring them a shot of Germax."
Players will have guidelines to follow in the dugouts.
"Players will be in town on May 25. We will have daily meetings with everybody to let them know how we’re going to run things. They will be fully aware of what we will do," Stratton said. "We’ve always done a good job hydrating teams in the past. But those days are over. Players will have to come with their own drinks. The protocol for teams will be for every player to have a clearly defined marker with their name on their water unit."
Stratton added the response he has received from players, coaches, officials and fans has been encouraging, even better than he could have hoped for.
"We’re not making anybody show up and we haven’t anybody say that they’re not going to come play," he said. "I thought we would have some. But it’s been totally the opposite. I thought we would lose some host families. Turns out we did not. We lost only one."
The league is adopting new starting times, with a heavy emphasis on day games, while hosting contests Sunday-Friday. There will be no games on Saturday. Starting times will include 5 p.m. for a Sunday double-header, 7 p.m. on Mondays, 10 a.m. for triple-headers Tuesday-Thursday and 10 a.m. for a double-header on Friday.
All games will consist of a maximum of seven innings.
"We will not have one pitch after seven innings," Stratton said. "If we’re tied at that point, the game will end in a tie."
In the case of recent high school grads, the Show-Me League will offer them their first baseball games of the year. In addition, college players haven't suited up since the second week of March. The idle time everyone, particularly pitchers, has endured will be taken into account.
"We’re implementing pitch-count (restrictions)," Stratton said. "The reason we’ve done that is we want to protect all these kids’ arms. We’re aware that many of them have been working out on their own. But we still want to make sure the kids’ arms are under control. We don’t want to let them go too far.
"Those guys who are pitcher-only guys, we might go as high as 80 pitches and then you’re done for the week," he added. "Early on, we may shut them down at 45. I imagine the first two or three weeks, we will have no one throwing more than 50 pitches. We may even say if you have thrown 35 pitches, you are done. Who knows, but we will error on the side of caution."
There will still be plenty of pitchers available.
"All the teams will have about 20 players. We will allow a few more pitchers than we have in the past," Stratton said. "Before, we tried to make everybody be here for every game. This year, with kids who are pitcher-only guys, we will be OK with them coming in for only one day of the week. We’ve got kids living in Kansas City, St. Louis or Fayetteville, Arkansas, coming in who will be pitching-only guys."
Stratton is pleased that players will have access to the Marucci Clubhouse, which opened earlier this year.
"That will allow us to do some things we haven’t done before," he said. "When we have double-headers or triple-headers, teams in the later games will be ready to go because they will have done all their pre-game work in the clubhouse."
Games will be live-streamed for the first time on the Show-Me League web site.
Playoffs will get under way July 19, with the top seed receiving a first-round bye.
"Being done by the third week of July, a kid can go out and be a kid the rest of the summer," Stratton said.
In addition to the Show-Me League, U.S. Baseball Park will host numerous travel-ball youth games this summer.
"It will be wall to wall baseball once we get started," Stratton said.