By Woodard, Dale on June 12, 2020.
Play ball? It’s a possibility.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc with summer sports, the Lethbridge Elks and Miners American Legion baseball teams remain hopeful they may be able to take the field in some capacity over the coming months.
Though the thought of being able to step up the plate and take a few cuts is on the minds of coaches and players alike, Elks’ head coach Scott Oikawa stressed putting personal safety first.
“I think we’ve gone over certain protocol and put plans into place as to how to safely be able to do it to mitigate any risks and such and still be able to start with workouts and things like that,” said Oikawa. “Hopefully as things open up maybe we can get into some games.
“Right now with the social distance and the equipment, it’s how we can mitigate any issues there. But for many people involved it’s a key part of life and there’s always a push for it. But at the same time you really have to put it in perspective and make sure there are no safety hazards to the community or anything like that.”
As the American Legion and Little League explore possibilities to start training, American Legion teams on the other side of the border have been playing for a little over a month.
“They started at the end of April and have been playing games through May,” said Oikawa. “The Montana American Baseball League is running without us and Medicine Hat. It’s going in a lot of places. But at the same time I know with our program we’re really taking a measured approached. Yes, everybody loves the game, but I think we realize there is a much bigger picture of community safety. So any moves we’re making we’re trying to have protocol in place and trying to make sure that whatever we do will align with whatever Alberta Health is recommending.
“I took a look at a few of the protocols that have been set out as far as not sharing equipment and trying to maintain that social distance and no use of the dugouts and things like that, hygiene and cleanliness and sanitization of equipment. There’s a pretty long list of different recommendations and right now we’re trying to see if it’s feasible and see what we can do to fall in line with that.”
Oikawa said he has been in contact with his American counterparts via Zoom conferences since they started playing in late April.
“They started out with smaller groups and a lot of protocol. They’re keeping up with much of that, but their games are pretty close to what they have been in the past. They’re allowing a certain number of fans and I think they’re even taking a look at concessions being open and public washrooms. They’re pretty normal.
“I do see they’ve had a little bit of a spike in the last little while. But I know when they started their numbers were pretty low. I’m wondering how that’s going to flesh out as the summer goes.”
On the Canadian side of the border, Oikawa said possible exhibition games with Medicine Hat and teams from Calgary are being explored.
The possibility of playing stateside has been discussed with the American teams, but given the current border situation such a scenario may be far-fetched.
“They have said that if we get a team going and would like to compete in a State Tournament they would probably leave a spot open for us,” said Oikawa. “But I think that’s somewhat optimistic with the borders right now.”
In the meantime, Oikawa has been in contact with his players, who understandably have the itch to take the field.
“I’ve had contact with a few and they’re definitely looking and wondering how we can do it and are all for it,” said Oikawa. “But at the same time I think they’re fairly cognizant of a lot of the issues. They’re all for being able to start and are looking for some guidance and some protocol if it is possible.”
Until then, Oikawa has been keeping busy around the house, even if some of those household projects have had varying degrees of success.
“Let me tell you, my DIY projects aren’t working out that well, either,” he said with a laugh. “I could use some more training in home renovation projects, but it isn’t pretty. I think like everybody it’s a difficult time and you just try to battle through and keep busy. But I’ll tell you what, my fence isn’t that level.”
If there is ultimately no baseball this summer, the longtime Elks skipper is accepting of the reason behind it.
“I know it’s a big chunk of my life,” said Oikawa. “But at the same time you realize the gravity of the situation and we’re talking about actual lives that are at stake. When you put it in that perspective, it’s easier to handle the loss of it.”
Follow @DWoodardHerald on Twitter