When Sandia Park resident Jason Stauch signed up his three kids to play with East Mountain Little League six months ago, his family’s hopes were high.
“We were excited for the season, especially for our [oldest] daughter, it’s her last year in Rookies,” Stauch said.
Under normal circumstances, Little Leagues would have held their Opening Day ceremonies last month, and the season would have been in full swing by now.
“Covid-19 changed everything,” Stauch said.
Like other spring sports that were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Little League was sidelined in March as local leagues’ initial preparations were getting underway. But the season has yet to be officially canceled.
Little League Baseball, Inc., based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, instructed its chartered local leagues—two in the East Mountain area—to postpone their seasons and wait until May 11 to decide whether to play or not to play.
In a video posted March 27 on littleleague.org, Stephen D. Keener, Little League’s president and CEO, described the situation as “an extended rain delay.”
But on April 30, Little League announced it was cancelling this year’s Little League World Series. It is the first time in the organization’s history it has canceled the annual event that began in 1947.
The cancellation includes 82 qualifying tournaments and respective World Series events in seven different divisions of baseball and softball, according to littleleague.org.
Two of Little League’s regional qualifying tournaments would have taken place in Albuquerque this summer.
Despite the cancellation to the LLWS, Little League has advised its local leagues that as their states begin to ease restrictions, they are encouraged to consider starting their seasons—providing they adhere to guidelines set forth by state government and health officials in terms of public gatherings and sporting events.
With Gov. Michell Lujan Grisham extending the state’s emergency coronavirus public health order to May 15, New Mexico Little League District 5—which comprises nine leagues in the Albuquerque area, including East Mountain Little League in Sandia Park and Estancia Valley Little League in Moriarty—has held virtual meetings to determine if, when and how they might salvage a makeshift season.
“All of the leagues are very interested in having a season as long as we are safe and in compliance with the state, county and city health departments’ guidelines,” said Anthony Fasulo, district administrator for New Mexico District 5.
Fasulo noted that everything hinges on what the governor decides regarding social distancing and public gatherings, adding, “As long as we’re not violating any of their guidelines, we intend to play.”
East Mountain’s and Estancia Valley’s league presidents acknowledged they are hopeful to have some semblance of a season.
“We’re kind of in a holding pattern until we figure out what’s going on,” East Mountain president Pat Hitchcock said. “But I’m trying to be optimistic, I want a baseball season, the majority of the parents and players I’ve spoken to all wanna play baseball, plain and simple.”
Estancia Valley president A.J. Chavez said his league is also eager to get back on the field.
“We’re kinda waiting to see if the governor will open everything back up and then we’ll run with that, but we are hoping to have a season even though it’ll be a short season, it’ll give the kids something to do.”
Fasulo said if the state allows public gatherings that are large enough to hold a Little League game, the leagues might be able to start around or shortly after Memorial Day. He said he plans on following up with the leagues after May 15.
If the state does not allow Little Leagues to start their seasons, Hitchcock said, “Worst case scenario, we’re gonna have to discuss as a board what we’ve already spent and decide what we’ll do in terms of refunds.”
East Mountain currently has 267 players registered.
Chavez said Estancia Valley has 86 players registered. He said the league had one request for a refund and “we went ahead and refunded their money.”
Stauch said his family is disappointed that Little League has been postponed but said there are more important things to think about right now.
“Of all the concerns society has right now, I’ve gotta admit, there are bigger fish to fry than a Little League season,” Stauch said, adding, “If it starts up in June and goes through July, I don’t know if we can even do it.”