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NH COVID Baseball League takes the field with social distancing in place

  • With players and coaches standing at least six feet apart, coach Rob Woodward talks to the team about how the new summer New Hampshire COVID Baseball League will be a different experience from the usual at their first practice in Lebanon, N.H., on June 1, 2020. There will be temperature checks, no shared equipment and sunflower seed spitting is not allowed for the 11 teams competing, who are a mix of former Legion rosters and club programs. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Spaced at least six feet apart, Hanover High School sophomore Ian Hedgepeth, right, and his teammates stand at the ready to sprint on coach Rob Woodward's signal during their first practice for the new summer New Hampshire COVID Baseball League in Lebanon, N.H., on June 1, 2020. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon High School pitcher Jon Carrier, a junior, pulls in a toss to first base during the first practice for the new summer New Hampshire COVID Baseball League in Lebanon, N.H., on June 1, 2020. With the grass slightly too long and the bases not out yet on Monday night, Jim Weschler Field at Eldridge Memorial Park is the team's home base because high school fields are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Post 22 program manager Pete St. Pierre, right, speaks with parents about the new summer New Hampshire COVID Baseball League at the start of their first practice in Lebanon, N.H., on June 1, 2020. As part of the governor's orders for athletic participation, players must social distance, provide their own equipment and hydration. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2020 10:02:20 PM
Modified: 6/2/2020 10:02:14 PM

LEBANON — Joey Perras is going to have to break the baseball habits of a lifetime — high-fives, ferrying teammates’ gloves, huddling in the dugout — to do something he’s missed since March. He’s up for it.

Perras lost his senior Hanover High season as well as his Lebanon Post 22 American Legion campaign to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Monday night found him among 17 other high school baseball players at Eldridge Memorial Park circling coach Rob Woodward prior to the first practice of a suddenly anticipated schedule.

Enough New Hampshire programs have bought into an alternative — what they’re calling the New Hampshire COVID Baseball League — that meaningful time on a diamond could be realized. The one-season league became possible when New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu approved small group workouts for youth sports last week. Should stay-at-home restrictions be further reduced, Perras could be throwing to live batters in three weeks.

“One of the biggest worries of mine was going off to college in the fall, and I thought I was going to be a bit behind, maybe not be ready to go and compete,” said Perras, who will pitch at St. Lawrence University next year. “Considering the emphasis they’re putting now on the 6-feet stuff and everyone keeping to themselves, I think it’s a good opportunity. I’m definitely excited to play with most of these guys again.”

The U19 NHCBL will include 11 teams — a mix of former Legion rosters and club programs — playing 20-game schedules capped by an eight-team postseason in early August. The Concord Cannons club program has committed to the NHCBL, as have at least four Legion teams down south.

Tim Lunn, the coach of Nashua Post 3’s seniors, put a league framework together in the days after state Legion support died on May 10.

“That night, I was like everybody else, probably a little upset and disappointed that the season wasn’t going to be happening,” Lunn said in a phone interview on Tuesday morning. “That night, I stayed up and drafted a soft version of what could happen if I could get the old Legion teams to play. … I sent out a message to the Legion teams, or former Legion teams, and a bunch of AAU teams in the state. We’ve been in contact the last two weeks, and it came to fruition.”

Legion posts aren’t permitted to run baseball programs, and the teams can’t wear any Legion branding. However, having the Lebanon Post 22 organization in place helped parents Kurt Gantrish and Bruce Sacerdote get the local baseball rolling quickly.

The Upper Valley NHCBL entry will play on Eldridge’s Jim Wechsler Field, adjacent to the Carter Community Building Association, school fields not being available. The roster is Hanover High-heavy, with Lebanon, Kimball Union and Woodsville also represented. Two of Gantrish’s sons, Nolan and Mason, and Sacerdote’s son, Sam, are on the team.

“They’re highly organized, with all of the insurance needed and even waivers that have expressly written in there about COVID-19,” Kurt Gantrish said. “So everyone is aware of understanding the risks and accepting those.”

Sununu’s May 18 guide for amateur and youth sports limits groups to 10 people working out together. Players must provide their own equipment and hydration. Post 22 program manager Pete St. Pierre, who is helping with organization, said other issues such as transportation are still being worked out.

Sacerdote said keeping players’ hands clean will take precedence over repetitively disinfecting baseballs. Players won’t need facemasks while in action, and distance must be kept around the dugout.

Fans and family members outside the field must maintain social distance and are recommended to wear masks.

Woodward said he’ll spend the first three weeks getting his players back to baseball shape. If all rules are followed, Perras will be good to go.

“At first I was skeptical, but it just came together,” the 18-year-old said. “I’m glad.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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