Following the Newington Connecticut Elite Baseball Association teamâ€™s 7-6 loss to West Hartford on Monday night, the two teams waved across the diamond in acknowledgement, eschewing the typical handshake line in order to satisfy social distancing guidelines.
The team could also give a socially distanced acknowledgement to league directors Craig Zimmerman and Tim Vincent, who helped piece a new league together in a monthâ€™s time to give area athletes a chance to take the field this summer after losing their entire high school seasons this past spring.
â€śIt was awesome,â€ť Newington head coach Ken Crouse said of the CTEBA season, which will come to an end for Newington on Wednesday when it takes on Simsbury. [Zimmerman and Vincent] did a great job. We tried to do all the social distancing as best we good and it seemed to go OK. We never seemed to have any problems, so that was good. The kids really enjoyed themselves.â€ť
The CTEBA announced its creation on May 25, just weeks after American Legion removed its sponsorship across the country and suspended its season. Zimmerman and Vincent quickly formed a committee to gauge interest around the state for a one-season-only plan to still give kids the opportunity to play ball in the summer, so long as the health regulations allowed it. Youth sports in Connecticut were given the green light on June 17, just a week after registration opened for the CTEBA. By July 2, the season was underway, and with a number of precautions put in place, it looks like it will reach the finish line.
â€śItâ€™s been great,â€ť Newington coach Jack Hurley said. â€śWe were lucky we were able to play. A lot of the kids coming out didnâ€™t get to play this spring.â€ť
For those kids that missed out on spring baseball, being back on Alumni Field for the summer brought an added sense of appreciation, especially when they considered what they had already lost, and what the outlook for summer sports looked like just a few short months ago, when the coronavirus pandemic had brought the sports world to a halt at all levels, from youth to the pros.
â€śTo be honest, yeah, it was so bad that I thought it was going to be canceled,â€ť Newington pitcher Nick Dicioccio said. â€śBut to be able to be out here now, itâ€™s awesome.â€ť
Of course, the league had its hurdles, the most notable being the home plate umpire being moved to behind the pitcherâ€™s mound to remain distanced from the players. The new angle made it tougher to gauge balls in play down the third base line, which showed on Monday when Dicioccio ripped a liner over third that was ruled fair, and while the West Hartford team emphatically protested the call, Dicioccio advanced all the way to third, and eventually scored after a late throw into third sailed high and rolled out of play. It was more difficult for umpires to call balls and strikes from an increased distance and a new perspective as well, but even with a few calls going different ways due to the circumstances, what mattered to Newington this year was the simple fact that they were back on the diamond together. Some aspects of the game looked different, but it was still baseball, the game Newington and teams across the state had lost in the spring.
â€śIt didnâ€™t even matter what our record was going to be,â€ť Crouse said. â€śWe were just so glad to play. We had a lot of seniors that werenâ€™t able to play in the spring, so it was great just to be able to coach them.â€ť
Newington enters its final game against Simsbury with a 9-11 record, but as Crouse said, the summer as a whole felt like a win, and he noticed an added sense of appreciation from the team when they arrived at the field every day for the new-look season.
â€śThe kids seemed to really enjoy it for sure,â€ť Crouse said. â€śIt was a lot, because we had so many games in such a little amount of time, but I think they enjoyed it. I was glad to coach them.â€ť
The players happily took all of the games they could get. There is now only one more for Newington, but it was 21 games more than they initially expected, which only added to the seasonâ€™s meaning.
â€śIt was great,â€ť Dicioccio said. â€śBeing able to get out of the house and be able to play ball was awesome. Itâ€™s great to be out here every day playing baseball.â€ť