After a year-and-a-half standstill, local baseball players will be able to return to the diamond Wednesday when the province moves into Step 2 of the reopening plan.
Orillia Legion Minor Baseball (OLMB) president Wes Winkel said the first pitch since 2019 will be thrown July 3.
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said.
“The players, coaches, umpires, everyone involved is excited and ready to play ball.”
When Premier Doug Ford announced an early start to Step 2, players were ecstatic, Winkel said.
“I coached a practice (recently) and everybody was positively giddy,” he said.
Since OLMB was given the green light to begin playing games, registration has skyrocketed.
“We got kids from minor lacrosse and minor soccer who are joining last minute because they just want to be involved in something,” Winkel said.
“Now we have a problem where we are going to have to turn people away because we cannot possibly field new teams. We are filling existing teams to the max, but that’s about all we can do.”
Despite the nearly two-month delay to the season, Winkel is optimistic the players will still be able to enjoy a meaningful three months of baseball.
“Baseball Ontario has committed to having a full play down and a provincial schedule. Other than it being shorter than usual, everything is going to be business as usual,” he said.
The upcoming season will end on Labour Day, giving fall sports a chance to start on time.
Players will also be happy to hear there are only a few mandatory COVID-19 restrictions in place at the diamond.
“We have a small spectator restriction as far as distancing goes, and players on first base have to wear a mask,” Winkel explained. “There are some distancing rules in the dugout, but for the most part it’s going to be baseball as usual.”
One noticeable difference with the upcoming season is there will be no tournament play due to limiting high volumes of people at the diamond.
“We are playing a lot more games in a shorter window, so there is just no time for tournaments anyway,” Winkel said.
He encourages players and parents to be patient during the first few weeks of the season while the OLMB organizes and schedules games on the fly.
“I hope everyone involved understands that it’s going to be a very mixed-up and confusing start because everything is so rushed,” he said.
“We are trying our best as volunteers to it pull together. We are all scrambling to get everything ready.”
The Orillia Slo-Pitch League (OSPL) also has its wheels in motion for the 2021 season.
“I think this is great. This is going to speed up our planning for getting back on the diamond,” said OSPL president Mike Borrelli.
“We wanted this to happen a long time ago. We missed the game, and now it’s time to move forward.”
In May, the OSPL was aiming to start its season July 21. Now Borrelli anticipates the season could begin sooner.
“We have our umpires in place, and now we are waiting for all our teams to get back to us on if they are still interested in playing or not,” he said.
“In the past few weeks, we’ve had a lot of interest, and this announcement is such a relief for our players.”
Like OLMB, the OSPL is working hard to create a meaningful season for its players. Borrelli is hopeful the executive can pull off a 20-game regular-season schedule and playoffs that run into October. A normal season that starts on time in May usually consists of 24 games and runs until late September.
Currently, the OSPL has 46 teams registered, which is down from the usual 82.
“It’s the co-ed division that is being hammered the most, but we are going to try to get it going,” Borrelli said.
He encourages teams that are on the fence about playing to return this season, saying the game itself won’t change because of the pandemic.
“We will be keeping the integrity of our game,” he said.
The executive is working hard to work out many logistical issues before the first pitch is thrown on the new season next month, he said. He urges players to be patient with the volunteers who will be working to make the season a success.