Youth baseball teams set to play with new guidelines

Ely pitcher Zach Anderson fires to home during the second inning of last August’s American Legion State Championship tournament held in Ely.

ELY — With Governor Tim Walz’s Stay at Home Order no longer in effect, the state of Minnesota has moved to new “stay safe Minnesota” guidelines that look to provide some relief for youth sports this summer.

Recently, the Minnesota Department of Health released guidelines for effective social distancing in youth sports that leagues around the state will adopt in the hopes of having their summer season. The most notable guideline amongst them is the requirement of creating consistent pods of the same staff, volunteers and players in a group no larger than 10 people to practice with. These pods would be used to help limit contact to as few people as possible.

For Ely baseball aficionado Tom Coombe, the new guidelines being put in place means returning something valuable to the small town up north.

“There’s a real hunger for things like youth sports to happen,” Coombe said Saturday in a telephone interview. “People just want some sense of normalcy right now.”

With the American Legion baseball season canceled, Coombe (who coaches Ely’s Legion squad) announced that what would’ve been the Ely Legion team will now play at the Senior Babe Ruth level. He expects the Ely Junior Legion team to play at the VFW level again as well.

As neither Babe Ruth or VFW have canceled their season like American Legion, Coombe says the response to the idea of getting teams going in either league was huge.

“When Legion ball was canceled, I sent out an email to all of our teams and said there’s a possibility of playing under other affiliations. I asked people to let me know if they were interested and the response was overwhelming. Summers are pretty empty without baseball, especially in Ely. So anything that can bring back at least part of that can be welcomed.”

Getting the ball rolling on playing under other affiliations started quickly after the cancellation of the American Legion season.

“It was pretty clear at the time that the loss of the Legion season didn’t necessarily mean there wouldn’t be summer ball. Organizations like Play Ball Minnesota and the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services have had a seat at the table for several weeks now putting proposals together that would allow us to play with guidelines like this in play. The development this week with the new set of guidelines is a positive step towards returning to play.”

The stay safe Minnesota plan will allow teams to begin practicing on June 1. The exact timetable to actually start playing games, however, is still unknown.

“Phase 2 starts June 1 and Phase 3 is when we’ll start seeing games. But we don’t know when we’ll get there. It could be a couple weeks or a month or maybe more. There’s no real commitment on a timetable. That’s the unknown right now.”

Coombe says other area teams have expressed interest in switching affiliations for this summer. Teams mentioned include Virginia, Cherry, Eveleth, Greenway and International Falls, as well as several schools in the Duluth area. Coombe also says the leadership surrounding Babe Ruth and VFW have been very understanding about what is likely a short-term deal.

“They know it’ll probably be a one year only type of thing for those that normally play under American Legion. They extended open arms to those that wanted to play this summer and invited teams to affiliate with them for the time being.”

Coombe says that a top priority on returning to play will be following the guidelines set forward by the Minnesota Department of Health.

“With things like the practice pods of 10 or less people, those are the guidelines and we have to abide by them. I think it’s very doable. And I think there are some common sense things as well. If you’re sick, don’t come to practice. Always try and maintain six feet of social distancing when possible. There’s a lot of room on the baseball field to social distance.

“We want to put an emphasis on safety when we do this. We want to follow those guidelines and show that it can work. I think the fact that the state is moving in this direction is a very good sign.”

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Youth leagues for elementary-aged children are also allowed to operate under the new guidelines. Recently, Virginia Youth Baseball announced that they plan to hold leagues for Minis (ages 6-8), Minors (9-10) and Majors (11-12) this summer with T-Ball (ages 5 and under) still up in the air.

Virginia Youth Baseball President Jo Kovacich could not be reached for comment.

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