Little League’s message: Teams will play ball — eventually
Attention all Little League baseball and softball players, your time at-bat still may come in 2020. There remains hope for some type of season.
That’s the word from Little League president and CEO Stephen Keener.
“I’m going into my 41st season here and have never been through anything like this,’’ Keener told The Post on Wednesday from Williamsport, Pa., home of the Little League World Series.
“We’ve advised all our programs based on the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations that they should suspend all their activities until May 11 and at that point we will give further direction once we know what we can and can’t do,’’ Keener said. “One of my colleagues put it best the other day, saying, ‘You know, right now we are in an extended rain delay.’ ’’
Little League, like the major leagues, is shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re holding up OK, right now, our secondary concern is having a tournament that concludes with the World Series,’’ Keener said. “Our primary concern right now is there are two to three million kids that aren’t playing locally in their Little League programs.
“Our highest priority is that when we get the green light to go ahead, to get all those kids back out and playing and try to salvage whatever we can of a season for them. If that allows us — it’s a big if — but if we are able to do that, it also allows us to have some semblance of a tournament season then we’ll consider it. But right now our focus is on keeping in communication with out affiliate programs to give them the best guidance and direction we can based on everything from the World Health Organization to CDC and of course the federal, state and local health officials.
“It’s very frustrating and disappointing all at the same time that the kids can’t be playing, but right now there is not much more we can do. Baseball and softball are quite unimportant at the moment, but we’ll get back to it as soon as we can.’’
This is usually a wonderful time of year with Little League parades and ceremonial first pitches throughout the world to kick off the season. Little League is played in 84 countries with 2.5 million participants.
To boost the spirits of the kids, Little League has started a campaign called Little League Pep Talk with the likes of Todd Frazier, Bert Blyleven, Curtis Granderson and many others, offering encouraging words at LittleLeague.org.
Little League has never been stopped by anything like this before in its 81-year history. The players desperately want to have a season and an All-Star season, not to mention the parents.
“For a lot of kids who are 12 it is their last year in Little League, so our goal is to get them back on the field playing in their local community program and then if we can, if it is safe to do so, then hopefully provide them with a tournament experience too,’’ Keener said.
It all concludes in late August at the Little League World Series in Williamsport and on ESPN with 16 teams, eight U.S, eight international teams.
“Those teams have the experience of their lives,’’ Keener said.
Frazier was on one of those teams, Toms River East American LL that won the hearts of America in 1998, and that’s why his message to the players resonates.
“This will pass,’’ the ex-Yankee, ex-Met and current Rangers third baseman said. “This virus is very serious. I know we are not playing baseball right now and I know you guys are chomping at the bit to get out. Be very patient. We are going to get out there eventually and baseball still will be played. Keep thinking good thoughts … eventually we’ll get out there and hear the ping of that bat again.’’
At some point, this extended rain delay will end, and skies above Little League fields all around the world will shine bright again.
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