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‘Strange’ season shaping up for amateur sports teams

Regulations giving games a different look

The bleachers at Marshall Park are taped off to keep spectators apart for Lunenburg Phillies games. (Sentinel & Enterprise/Nick Mallard)
The bleachers at Marshall Park are taped off to keep spectators apart for Lunenburg Phillies games. (Sentinel & Enterprise/Nick Mallard)

In his nearly 40 years with the Lunenburg Phillies franchise, Joe Ruth has seen plenty of things that defy explanation.

His time in the Central New England Baseball Association has produced both overachieving and underachieving teams, groups that included future Major Leaguers and unforgettable characters, and plays that Ruth still has trouble wrapping his head around.

So when the 64-year-old Ruth addresses the condensed 2020 CNEBA season with just two words, the descriptions are worth noting: strange and stressful.

As both manager of the Phillies and CNEBA president, Ruth has had the stress of securing Marshall Park for use as Lunenburg’s home ballpark and the added task of familiarizing himself with the guidelines set by Governor Charlie Baker for the return of organized sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic..

“It’s been a long week,” Ruth said Wednesday. “Maybe the most stressful week of my life.”

The state’s list of rules for baseball leagues to reopen is a lengthy one. Phase three of the state’s reopening standards addresses both youth and adult amateur sports, with baseball listed under the category of “moderate risk” as “intermittent contact” can be balanced with “protective equipment or mitigating measures.”

Moderate risk sports are open for Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the guidelines, which allow practices and competitions, but no tournaments. Gatherings of teams and athletes for tournaments are reserved, for the time being, for lower risk sports, such as tennis, golf and gymnastics, where interpersonal contact is very limited.

Higher risk sports like football, hockey and basketball will be limited to “socially distanced group activities,” such as no-contact workouts.

Ruth noted that he’s been instructed that all players within the dugout are to wear masks and he’s asked players to bring chairs to games so they can be seated in foul territory with the six feet of distance between them being mandated by the state. Disinfecting of the dugout both before and after games is also called for.

He’s also been instructed that in situations where distancing isn’t an option – at the plate or at first base, for example – masks are to be worn by players and officials.

The state’s rules for sports also prohibit handshakes or high fives, stating “sportsmanship should continue in a touchless manner.” Picture a walk-off home run being met simply with shouted compliments.

Furthermore, taking in a game looks to be a tough task this summer, with the guidelines stating the following for outdoor competitions and tournaments: “No more than 100 people including participants, players, coaches, volunteers, spectators in the aggregate in, on, or surrounding any surface/playing area or start/finish lines at any one time, provided that there is adequate space for all participants, players, coaches, volunteers and spectators to maintain at least six feet social distancing, recognizing that for some moderate risk sports intermittent contact may occur for players.”

The modest bleachers at Marshall Park were surrounded by caution tape on Wednesday, keeping spectators from gathering in close quarters for the Phillies’ season opener against the Littleton Mariners.

Strange times, indeed.

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