College Summer Ball Draws To A Close After Unprecedented Season
As the calendar reaches mid August, the summer ball season is coming to a close around the country. It was a summer unlike any other—the venerable Cape Cod League canceled its season for the first time since World War II and the summer became much more regionalized as many players opted to stay close to home—but baseball in some form continued in leagues around the country.
Many leagues this spring joined the Cape in cancelling their seasons. But others continued and now, with a couple exceptions, they have reached their conclusion and crowned their champion.
For the conferences that continued, being able to provide players, who missed out on most of their seasons this spring, the opportunity to play this summer was a highlight.
“We had our own terminology—we created a bubble of normalcy,” San Diego League vice president Mark Rogoff said. “Yeah, there were blue Xs all over the place, there was hand sanitizer in the dugouts and we took temperatures every day, but it was our bubble of normalcy. Kind of an escapism.
“To me, it seems like there’s something about (the players) that they want to compete. We gave them that opportunity and it was fun to watch.”
That chance was also appreciated by the players themselves. South Florida League commissioner Vince Farfaglia said the commitment level of the players impressed him the most this summer. He noticed it from Day 1, when the teams were just holding preseason training camp to help the players get back up to speed after a long layoff this spring.
“We had guys driving from two, three hours just to practice for the day,” he said. “That commitment level and grind, you really appreciate it.”
That kind of discipline and want was required this summer. Players had to adjust after their long spring layoff and then continue to follow safety protocols all summer. No league operated in a true bubble, meaning practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and making smart decisions were of vital importance to completing the season.
It didn’t go smoothly everywhere. The Northwoods’ Northern Michigan pod played just one weekend before an outbreak of the virus led to it shutting down for two weeks and two of the four teams being removed from play. Both the Coastal Plain League and Texas Collegiate League had a team forced to end its season early due to the virus, though both teams completed the majority of their schedules and the rest of the league continued.
Farfaglia said there were four positive tests in the South Florida League. After a positive test, the player needed a negative test to return to play and the whole team was quarantined. But they were able to avoid having to shut down for any period of time and their players did a good job sticking to strict guidelines.
The league’s plan for playing this summer had to go all the way to the governor’s office to be approved. No more than 50 people were allowed on the field, leading the league to limit game-day rosters to 20 players. Players staying at the condos the league rented had to maintain a curfew, which was enforced by room checks. Everyone had to wear a mask in the dugout and social distancing was a point of emphasis.
Farfaglia said the hardest part of the summer was building trust with everyone that needed to sign off on the protocols.
“The toughest thing was convincing the public and government officials that we were confident our plan was going to work and we would execute it properly,” he said. “The biggest thing was putting the mitigation plans together and gaining trust that we needed. The baseball stuff falls in line and is pretty simple.”
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Overall, summer ball’s experience with the virus wasn’t that much different from any other sport playing this summer in the United States. MLB has endured outbreaks in two teams and Major League Soccer sent two teams home from its bubble in Orlando before its MLS Is Back Tournament began.
On the field, the game was a little different this summer. With USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and the Cape canceled, many premium prospects chose not to play. Those that did typically stayed more local to their hometowns or schools, leading to a higher level of talent in many leagues than in a typical summer.
The long layoff this spring also had repercussions on the field. Early in the summer season there were reports across many leagues that the pitchers were ahead of the hitters. Eventually, the hitters caught up, but this summer saw many standout pitching performances.
No matter how different the summer may have felt a times, it was still baseball offering a chance to compete, develop and chase a trophy. Throughout the summer, at ballparks across the country, players responded to that opportunity.
“Championship day was great,” Rogoff said. “The smiles were everywhere. There was a lot of happiness, excitement. You can call it cheesy, lovey dovey, but it was a special day.
“It was very cool to see kids doing what they should be doing, and that was playing ball this summer.”