MURRAY — Over the past weekend, the Murray Sluggers hit the road for their first travel baseball game of the season and came away with a championship.
The decision to get back to playing baseball during the continued wariness that surrounds COVID-19 was made with extreme caution. The head coach of the Sluggers, Ron Watson, said that the first thing he did was reach out to all of the parents of the players on the team and asked if they would be comfortable with a return to action.
The answer was a resounding yes from the parents. Everyone involved understands the risks, but they put guidelines in place and the team has followed them closely during practices and games.
“We asked parents their thoughts and made sure everyone was good to start,” Watson said. “It has been business as usual since then. The only difference is we started off in small groups to stay within state recommendations.”
The team practiced for three weeks before traveling to compete in their first tournament of the season. During that time they maintained social distancing guidelines by separating the team into small groups of three. In these groups, they were able to do some fielding work and a little batting practice, all while not making any close contact with one another.
Baseball has been deemed a low contact sport for a reason. In a typical game, the closest any two opposing players will get is on a tag play, which is a rarity. Other than that, contact between opposing players just doesn’t happen.
At tournaments there are further guidelines that are in place to fight COVID-19.
“Parents have to sit in groups down both lines and there’s no sitting behind home plate in the bleachers allowed,” Watson said. “After the game we don’t do handshakes. We just walk out of our dugout and tip our caps. Other than that, it was all the same. We had a lot of sanitizer to go around and plenty of Lysol.”
At the first tournament of the year, Watson said his team seemed to show no signs of rust. They competed well and really took it to the opposition, especially in their first game.
“It went really well,” Watson said. “We played great for our first time out, we went 3-1 and won the Silver Bracket Championship. I believe we are #2 in Kentucky at the AA level and we are one of the best teams each year, so I didn’t expect much rust. We won our first game 21-0 and the boys were hitting, pitching and fielding like it was mid-season. In the championship game, we beat a good team out of western Kentucky, 5-0, that is really well coached.”
The team will continue their season this weekend in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, then head to Paris, Tennessee next weekend. They will wrap up the season the following week with what has become an annual trip to the World Series in Florida. The Sluggers have participated in the World Series for two years straight and expect to make it three this year.
Although there are obvious things to be concerned about, the fact that these kids are getting the opportunity to do what they love and play together during this time is what it’s all about. Things are far from normal, but this helps things feel somewhat normal.
“It’s very important for the kids to get out of the house and play some baseball,” Watson said. “I know we are still a little ways off, but we are getting back to some sense of normalcy and that’s very important for everyone. I could tell the first few weeks after sports ended that our boys were still in a state of shock and kind of down and out. They felt weird and their attitudes reflected that. Now that we are rolling again, you can see those smiles and hear that normal laughter of boys being able to do what they love. The parents and coaches are on the same page and we know the risks.We try to minimize them as much as we can.”