Orioles player JR Haggerty makes the out at first on Jake Banda

In Monday night’s Wilmington Major League game between the Orioles and Athletics,  Orioles player JR Haggerty makes the out at first base on Jake Banda of the Athletics. (photo by JoeBrownphotos.com).

WILMINGTON — Wilmington Little League Baseball has had a very hectic past few months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Before COVID-19, the plan like every other year, was to begin the 2020 season on time.

Teams were formed last fall, and they were practicing indoors in January and February.

But like everything else, the pandemic forced the league to shut down in late March, so the state could slow the spread of the virus.

“It had been first frustrating and disappointing, we weren’t sure there was going to be a season,” said Mark Dynan, who coaches in the Angels in the Major Division.

For league president Jaret Balter, who had to immediately issue refunds to the entire league, he said it was a wait and see approach.

“We had to see how this thing was going to play out,” said Balter. “We sent some surveys out to the parents to figure out their comfort level, [because] they have to be just as comfortable as their kids, making sure that we are doing a good job of putting their kids in safe hands with the coaches and on the field... and that was the only way we were going to do this.”

Balter and the Board of Directors had several conversations with Wilmington Board of Health, district administrators, and Little League National on how to return to play safely.

“It’s an outlet for kids especially in a time like this, you know they haven’t been able to see their friends for a long time,” Balter said. “It’s camaraderie, they need it for their social development to be able to interact and see each other, that’s as important as playing the game themselves.”

Governor Baker gave the go-ahead for Massachusetts to enter Phase 2 of re-opening in late May, which meant teams could start to practice again.

In that timeframe, all that were involved in getting Wilmington Little League back up and running put together safety protocols.

All coaches have to wear masks. Umpires are now positioned behind the pitcher’s mound instead of home plate. Sanitation wipes and sprays and hand sanitizer are readily available to keep everything clean as much as possible.

Players are to remain six feet apart when not on the playing field. They cannot share equipment or drinks. Sunflower seeds and spitting, as well as handshakes are not allowed.

As Phase 3 of re-opening began last week, these guidelines were placed at all of the baseball fields so teams could start playing games.

Wilmington Little League Baseball normally is comprised of seven divisions. The league has decreased to three divisions: Big Diamond, 5070, and the Majors.

But no matter what, coaches are ready to get going again.

“In twelve years, I haven’t seen anything like it,” said Henry Belding, manager of the Majors Royals. “As a coach getting everything together was a challenge, but this is what I love to do.”

Belding says the transition to not playing baseball was tough.

“The kids are showing a lot of heart even when COVID-19 is going on, that they are willing to come out for the love of baseball and sacrifice what they might get and be a kid and enjoy the summertime.”

Wilmington players can play in the Majors until the age of 12. So, for Mark Dynan’s son David, who plays on the Angels, potentially not having a season didn’t sit well.

“My son is a social kid, and not being with his friends during school or for sports, that was hard,” said Mark. “...we now have a reality of where we are playing, and now it’s excitement.”

As you can imagine, coaches who are parents will do anything to get their kids on the field.

“I will wear a mask if that means the boys can play; my players have been wearing masks at practice when they are close to each other; they practice social distancing, they have been awesome,” said Dynan.

Dynan thanks the higher-ups in the league for getting back to playing safely. “Their communication was thorough and timely, they were ahead of the game.”

Balter thanks town officials and parents for their support. He says he is hopeful to start clinics and maybe fall baseball as some restrictions relax.

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