Summit Youth Baseball salvages season for 350 local ballplayers
BRECKENRIDGE — League president Steve Misch relayed to local baseball parents that if Summit Youth Baseball were to have a summer season, despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, it would be a team effort. And it wouldn’t be limited to the young boys and girls out on the diamond.
There would need to be buy-in from everybody to be able to play America’s pastime safely in the age of COVID-19. Parents and loved ones would need to physically distance from other households while spectating. Batters and baserunners would need to wear face coverings. Parents also had to read the league’s COVID-19 document before signing off on an additional waiver.
“When COVID first happened I didn’t think we’d have a season,” Misch said. “But we heard from enough parents that, yes, this would be something that brings normalcy to summer. We went through many iterations of a ‘return to play’ document.
“We worked with local health officials like (Summit County Environmental Health Manager) Dan Hendershott,” Misch continued. “He helped us out and his kid plays. And the parents really helped. We said we can make this a community effort. We didn’t want to put the onus on coaches, the safety issue. We really have heard 99% positive feedback, it was a group effort.”
Seven weeks after Misch and the rest of the Summit Youth Baseball leadership put in the work to host a summer season for 350 local youth, all the planning, preparation and attention to detail paid off last week. Several different divisions hosted playoff and championship games for age divisions between T-ball (4-6 years old) and the majors (11 and up). Across four leagues, three dozen teams were fielded, including Misch and co-coach Tom Vitalone’s 2 V’s Landscaping Athletics.
On Wednesday night, Aug. 5, at Kingdom Park in Breckenridge, the Athletics stormed back in the second-to-last inning to defeat the Summit Real Estate Royals 11-9 in a thrilling championship game. As their children and childrens’ friends hurled their mitts into the air in celebration, this was the moment Misch and Vitalone hoped for when the season restarted on June 22. They understood the danger of COVID-19. But they also understood the toll the lockdown was taking socially on their children and children’s friends who were without school, nevermind baseball. They were also fully aware of the mental health situation for many youth around the county after two local youth died by suicide during the shutdown.
“Then we had the tragedy of the two kids in high school,” Vitalone said. “… It was a positive (to play the season). My son, Luca, when he found out we would be playing, he was just happy. I think all of the kids were chomping at the bit to get out of the house and do stuff.”
Misch said through the seven-week season, which included nine games, there were no issues with positive COVID-19 cases or spread of the virus. He said the closest thing to a problem the league had was that someone’s grandmother was in contact with someone who maybe had some symptoms.
“So we were careful with those people, and as soon as they got a negative test they were able to come back.”
The league itself coming back to play occurred right at the deadline. Joy Lukasiewicz — whose son Matthew played in the Wednesday night championship for the Royals while her older son Mason umpired — said league administrators like herself, Misch and league vice president Angela Hegglend worked diligently, including many a Zoom meeting, to try to make it happen for their sons and daughters.
“For my kids and family, the most important thing is being outside playing with other kids,” Lukasiewicz said. “Here, you’re not on the same team as everyone you go to school with, so it brings in meeting and making new friends before school starts.”
Hegglend, whose 8-year-old son Chase played for the championship in the minors division, said the return of the league not only helped the kids’ mental health and social situation, but it ignited their passion for baseball.
“After going along with the routine, now they can’t get enough of it,” Hegglend said. “Taking the break was good for them, but now they are ready to go. Cheering everybody on, seeing and playing with friends. It’s been really good for them.”
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