Local league, WBA still hope to play some summer ball
Four have opted out
It obviously won’t be what people are used to and there may be bumps along the way, but most members of the Dairyland League are moving forward with plans for a shortened 2020 baseball season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Monday’s Zoom meeting between league representatives produced a plan for a sevenweek regular season starting as early as the weekend of June 13-14. Teams would play a game per week through July.
A post-season tournament is planned for the weekends of Aug. 1-8 to determine the two league representatives for this year’s scaled-down Wisconsin Baseball Association (WBA) finals to be hosted by Spooner and a secondary site to be determined the weekend of Aug. 14-16.
In a videoconference Sunday, the sixleague WBA settled on a single-weekend, 12-team state tournament, rather than the usual 32-team, two-weekend post-season tournament. Each of the WBA’s six leagues will send two representatives to the finals. It’s entirely up to those leagues to figure out how they decide what teams advance.
The WBA and Dairyland League have made it clear that teams will not be penalized for deciding not to compete with all of the uncertainty surrounding play this summer. The Wausau River Hawks and Tomahawk Titans declared during Monday’s meeting they will forgo playing in the Dairyland’s 2020 season but certainly want to play next year.
The Abbotsford Merchants were not represented during the conference, but it was learned afterwards they are passing on playing in 2020. The Spirit Twins announced Tuesday they will forgo playing in the league this year but will return in 2021.
“The intent from the WBA was to keep everybody playing next year,” Dairyland president Dan Kraschnewski said during Monday’s meeting. “The idea was to just play some ball this year. That’s why they changed the format of the tournament. That’s only going to be a one-year change. Next year, it will go back to the way it’s always been unless we vote otherwise. The idea from most everybody at the meeting (Sunday) was let’s just get some baseball games going.”
With varying rules and health guidelines in place throughout Dairyland League locales and an outfield renovation project this summer in Rib Lake, field availability will be limited, giving league secretary/treasurer Justin Hraby a challenging job this week in trying to map out the regular-season schedule.
With a perfectly-balanced schedule being virtually impossible to create, Jeff Ziembo, representing the Rib Lake Osprey, suggested the end-of-season league tournament for any teams who, at that point in the summer, are still interested in competing for a berth in the finals. Seeding could be based on teams’ success during games that do get played.
“I think that sounds like a pretty good idea,” Kraschnewski said. “We could work something out where we play at a couple different sites and work it down. In two weeks, we should be able to do that without any problem.”
“You could account for weather because you’re never going to have everybody get all those games in and, with the unbalanced schedule, you could give everybody a fair crack at it at that point,” Ziembo said.
Marshfield, Whittlesey and Medford were teams tabbed to have fields open for play. During Monday’s conference, Ziembo said it was 99% certain Rib Lake and Interwald, who both call Tannery Creek Parkway home, would not have a home field as this summer’s circumstances seemed like the perfect time to upgrade the outfield in that ball park.
Minocqua representative Doug Etten said the status of field use there wouldn’t be certain until a town board meeting June 16, but he guessed, at worst, games with no fans could be held there. Field use this season for league newcomer Pittsville, Everest, Westboro and Merrill ranged, as of Monday, from uncertain to doubtful.
Kraschnewski said some leagues throughout the WBA are planning to play multiple games with multiple teams at single sites over a weekend to boost game numbers.
“I think our guys are willing to go play somewhere else,” Merrill’s Shawn Schultz said. “We just can’t use anything here and it doesn’t look good for that changing.”
“Marshfield is open,” Marshfield’s Luke Wirtz said. “The common council voted 6-4 to open up parks and rec facilities in town so we got two fields here that are available for play.”
“We want to play as soon as possible,” Everest’s Jim Olafson said. “We don’t care where we play. Because we’re on school grounds, it’s possible we can play here starting in July.”
“I talked to (Taylor County Public Health officer) Patty Krug (Monday) and she said it’s not enforceable but highly recommended that in Taylor County if you do something you follow social distancing and you don’t have gatherings of more than 50 people,” Hraby said.
Hraby asked for ideas on how to designate home teams on the schedule, especially for teams who may not have a home field. Suggestions were to keep it simple, either flipping a coin for every game or just keeping a host team as the home team, whether the number of home games between those teams is balanced or not.
Kraschnewski stressed that once a schedule is produced, this is a year not to worry too much about getting all of the games in.
“You can’t worry about the weather,” he said. “If games can’t be made up, they can’t be made up. Those things can’t be held against teams this year because of the situation. We play as many games as we can. What you get in, you get in, what you don’t, you don’t.”
Examples of health and distance guidelines and liability waivers being used by leagues in other parts of the state were emailed to team representatives. The guideline examples weren’t deeply discussed in the brief time allotted in the Zoom conference, but it was generally agreed that having players/teams sign liability waivers was a good idea.
A key question raised was what would happen if a player tests positive for COVID- 19 during the season and would that mean an entire team would have to go through a 14-day quarantine. Hraby said teams and the league would have to follow any decisions county health officials make if the situation arises.
However a season happens, flexibility is going to be needed to make it work.
“This is going to be a totally different year and we’ve really gotta bend,” Hraby said.
Just to the west of Dairyland territory, the Chippewa River Baseball League, with teams in Chippewa, Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties, decided Sunday to suspend its season until further notice. Its revised 2020 season was set to start this Sunday, June 7.
To the northwest, the Independent League is planning to get its shortened season started this weekend.