COVID-19’s community impact:  The old ball game returns

Two Oshawa Giants players during a game with the umpire moved behind the pitching mound calling balls and strikes. Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Baseball Oshawa

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles chronicling the effects of COVID-19 on businesses and organizations in Oshawa.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a period of adaptation for Baseball Oshawa. With the pandemic hitting during its largest registration period of the year, the club has been scrambling to make things work since.

“It really affected amateur sport registrations,” said Ken Babcock, president of Baseball Oshawa. “Our registrations were down more than 50 per cent.”

A normal season would have about 1,100 participants for Baseball Oshawa, but this year, it was down to around “550 or less,” according to Babcock.

The drop in registrations led to issues for Baseball Oshawa as they purchase all of their jerseys, baseballs and equipment for the next year about six months in advance – in this case, in October of last year.

“All those are committed for ahead of time, and we didn’t have the registrations and revenue,” said Babcock.

Baseball Oshawa turned to online programs and Zoom guest speakers, including former MLB player and Oshawa native, Andy Stewart, to keep the kids engaged with the sport during the delayed start.

“We tried to provide as much online content, and skills content, things that coaches could share with their team,” said Babcock. “It’s all we really could do.”

Baseball Oshawa was able to return to rep baseball training on July 2, and on July 9, were one of the few house league programs to return to play in Ontario.

“The ability to play a season for a couple for months was really a decision made by what our members wanted,” said Babcock. “The house league players, parents and coaches wanted to play.”

Returning to play meant updating the way things looked on the field and in the dugout, according to guidelines from public health, sport governing bodies and local government.

The first of the two major rule changes saw the umpire calling balls and strikes from behind the mound. The other rule change was aimed at creating less contact at first base – no lead offs in the ages 18 or under, according to Public Health.

“It created a little difference for ages 12 and up who have lead offs and can steal (bases),” said Babcock. “So, it was a little bit of a change.”

Off the field, only coaches were allowed in dugouts and they created a “NASCAR pit” type line down the right and left-field line for the players to socially distance until restrictions eased up.

They also were able to trace contact through an app called “OnDeck” which Baseball Ontario featured heavily in its return to sport plans. The app allowed the programs to track attendance at practice and games but also allowed them to notify public health immediately in the event of a positive case.

For Babcock, it only took one day back at the baseball diamond to see if all the changes were worth it.

“Seeing the kids back on the field…seeing them smiling and having fun, doing something they love was really an important moment,” said Babcock. “It really justified why (I) spent the time, all our volunteers and coaches spent the time, to try to get back to the diamond.”

Babcock feels this experience with a COVID-19 shortened season and implementing all the new changes puts them in a good position to have a full season next year.

“If things stay the way they are, and even if maybe the restrictions are the same, we’re confident we can deliver a pretty good baseball season,” said Babcock.

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