While preparing for minor league spring training with the Minnesota Twins, Delone Catholic grad Casey Lawrence trains at a hometown gym with his dad. York Dispatch
For York County baseball fans, Saturday will be strangely and sadly silent.
The crack of the bat hitting the ball, the trash talk flowing from the dugouts and the sarcastic jabs of fans abusing umpires will all be absent.
Instead, the local diamonds will sit empty and desolate. Even worse, no one has a concrete idea of when the area sandlots will again erupt with noise and excitement.
We have been denied an annual rite of spring.
Saturday, you see, was supposed to mark the start of the Central League baseball season. The Susquehanna League was slated to begin its season the following Thursday.
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Neither season, of course, will start on time. The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed two more athletic casualties, at least temporarily.
The boys of summer have been put on ice.
Waiting for green phase: For decades, the opening of the local adult baseball leagues was considered by many the unofficial start of summer in these parts.
Now, however, the rival leagues might be lucky to get their games underway by the official start of summer on June 20 — if they can start at all this year.
Organized team activities in Pennsylvania, such as baseball, won't be allowed until the green phase of state's COVID-19 mitigation plan. Currently, York County remains stuck in the red phase.
It's unknown when our region might advance to the yellow phase of the recovery, much less hit the green phase that would allow for the return of local baseball.
Given the current circumstances, however, it would be stunning if county baseball gets the "green light" before the end of May, at the absolute earliest.
COVID-19 has already caused the cancellation of the York-Adams American Legion baseball season. Meanwhile, like the adult leagues, the York County Little League and York Revolution baseball seasons are on hold.
League presidents remain hopeful: Still, despite the uncertainty, the presidents of the local adult leagues remain hopeful that baseball will be played in York County at some point this summer. Both also said their leagues would abide by any restrictions imposed by the state in order to play ball.
A full schedule of games will likely not be possible, but both presidents appear willing to take whatever baseball they can get this year after they get the OK from the state.
"Right now, I'm optimistic but not certain," Susquehanna League president Jeff Barkdoll said. "Obviously, we don't know until the governor reacts and lifts the hold, but we're hopeful to begin the season on May 30. If that doesn’t work, we have a contingency plan for June 13."
Central League president Mark Skehan expressed similar sentiments.
"I'm hopeful, but not overwhelmingly hopeful," Skehan said. "We’re going to keep shooting for some baseball, until it becomes obvious that we can't."
Both men indicated that the leagues would likely need to start games by the Fourth of July in order to hold truly meaningful — albeit shortened — seasons. Both leagues rely heavily on college players, who typically return to their schools in mid- to late August.
The eight-team Susquehanna League had planned a 28-game regular season, plus league playoffs. The Central League is at nine teams this season with the addition of Mechanicsburg from the disbanded West Shore Twilight League and was supposed to feature a 32-game regular season, plus league playoffs.
County title series up in air: Both Barkdoll and Skehan said it was uncertain — even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit — if the annual York County Baseball Championship Series between the two leagues would be played this summer.
The two leagues ended last season on bad terms when they could not agree on the eligibility of an East Prospect player in the 2019 county title series. Susquehanna League champion East Prospect won that series on the field, 2-1, over Central League champion Stoverstown. Central League officials, however, wanted the Pistons to vacate that crown because they believed East Prospect used an ineligible player. The Pistons refused.
A stalemate ensued, and Susquehanna League teams eventually did not play in the Tom Kerrigan Memorial Tournament, which is an annual Labor Day weekend tradition in York County. The Kerrigan event is organized by the Central League.
The eligibility dispute apparently put an end to a one-year experiment with interleague play. Before the eligibility dispute, both sides seemed to agree that interleague play was working well and did inject some much-needed buzz into local baseball in 2019. The blossoming relationship between the rival leagues, however, was undoubtedly damaged by the eligibility issue.
The current health crisis, however, could ultimately help the rival leagues settle their differences. Both sides should realize that there are some things that are much more important than baseball and that holding grudges over a simple game is counterproductive for both sides.
That, however, is another discussion for another column.
Sketchy outlook: Meanwhile, the outlook for any local baseball at all this season remains sketchy.
Skehan believes the players in his league would need a couple of weeks to get ready, once baseball gets the state OK.
That would likely mean that York County needs to get to the green phase by mid-June to allow for the season to start around the Fourth of July.
No one, not even Gov. Tom Wolf, likely knows if that will happen. The coronavirus has its own schedule.
Even if the green phase doesn't arrive in York County until later in the summer and the local leagues couldn't hold regular seasons, Skehan wouldn't rule out the possibility of still holding the Kerrigan tournament.
"Everybody is anxious to play ball," Skehan said. "It might be a diminished field, and there may be more local teams than ever before, but when we can play ball, we’re going to try to play ball."
There's no doubt that Skehan is right. Everyone in the York County baseball community wants to "play ball."
Unfortunately, it may be a while before we actually get to hear those cherished words.
— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.