Hancock Little League gets green light to restart season with practices this week

by Geoff Fox

The crack of the bat as Mike Trout smacks a home run could very well not be heard this summer as the 2020 Major League Baseball season is in danger of being cancelled.

Baseball field at Hancock’s Kirkwood Park.

However, the clang of a bat as the next Mike Trout will be heard in Hancock this summer.

Hancock Little League has gotten the green light to begin practices and the players took to the practice field this Monday, June 1.

When everything was suspended due to the coronavirus situation, the league had just completed drafting their teams with a few already having started practices, Hancock Little League President Brandon Utermoehlen said in an email.

Utermoehlen said there have already been meetings with various leagues and an entire season had already been scheduled. There was even to be a team travel to Hancock from New Jersey to play the two junior teams for a week of baseball.

With everything shut down, Utermoehlen said he has been maintaining constant contact with the board of directors, keeping them up to date with live information he’d been given by various sources such as Little League International, local officials, CDC, and others.

“I also sent the same messages to our managers and coaches,” he said. “Once I got everyone’s input I would put together a statement to release on our Facebook age to update our fans and parents.”

The green light to officially resume practice was given on May 22.

“We had a virtual meeting with the board on May 13 and discussed everything I had to date,” Utermoehlen said.

Utermoehlen said he reached out to Hancock Councilman Tim Boyer and ran some ideas past him and once everyone was on board, Utermoehlen collected various suggestions and came up with a list of guidelines to present to the mayor for approval.

“After a few days of discussion we were finally give the green light at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 22, to start on June 1 with modified practices,” Utermoehlen said.

Modified practices mean teams are unable to practice on all the fields at the same time right now. Teams have been scheduled to allow two to three practices a week and no more.

“Typically some teams would practice six to seven days during the normal play,” he said.

There’s also a limit to the size of groups playing together.

Rather than having 12 players and two coaches on the field, teams will be split into two groups. One coach would have half the team in batting cages while the other coach and the rest of the team would be using the field.

“No one is permitted in the dugouts during practices, and parents are to remain in their vehicles,” Utermoehlen said.

Other modifications include where players will hang their equipment bags, a ban on sharing or providing water to players, and disinfection of practice bags after each practice. Hand sanitizer will be provided by the league; coaches are required to disinfect their bucket of balls and no bathrooms available during practices unless an emergency.

The full list of modifications with details is available on the Hancock Little League’s Facebook page.

Practices will still be held at all the fields, but with regulations.

To start, one team a night would be using Gerber Field. Kirkwood Park can host four teams a night in different time slots.

Utermoehlen said a tee ball team would be at the bottom field and a minor league team would be at the top field, both at the same time. Later that evening, a junior/senior league team would be using the bottom field and a major league team would be on the top.

Utermoehlen said the league is still working on guidelines for future games.

He said parents may be encouraged to bring their own chairs and games might be live streamed.

“There is a lot more meat that goes into game scenario guidelines,” Utermoehlen said.

Registration for Hancock Little League has reopened and will be for a few more days. Registration closes at 12 a.m. on Sunday, June 7.

This is a continuation of the previous signups, Utermoehlen said. There have been 10 new players registered with “more expected to contact us.”

Signups are on the Hancock Little League’s website, which can be found on the league’s Facebook page.

Registration can also be done by contacting any Hancock Little League board member.

“We will get their information and take care of everything easily,” Utermoehlen said. “We won’t turn anyone away for the time being.”

Registration fees are $50 for tee ball and $70 for the other leagues.

With the possibility of contracting COVID-19, some parents have contacted Hancock Little League about changing their minds regarding their child playing ball this summer.

“As much as we hate to lose them, we understand their feelings and respect them,” Utermoehlen said.

There are three options being offered for parents who decide to keep their child off the field this year.

Utermoehlen said the options are a full refund of registration fees, donation of the registration fee for 2020 to the league, and applying the 2020 registration fee toward the 2021 registration fee.

He added it’s been received “rather well” among parents and it’s been about even among the three options.

Utermoehlen said he is “very excited” about the upcoming season. Other leagues may have made the decision to cancel their seasons.

“I had a goal of waiting until September to make a decision if needed,” he said. “Luckily we have a great group of volunteers this year.”

Those volunteers have put their ideas together and agreed on things and were able to move forward with a goal and achieve getting the kids back to a somewhat active life, he said.

“It’s going to be an adjustment with the guidelines, but my [overall] goal was to get the kids on the field,” Utermoehlen said.

While he feels Hancock Little League achieved that goal, there could be some parents who may not understand or approve of the guidelines.

“I hope they keep in mind we are doing everything we can to ensure safety of everyone as well as get the kids out there,” Utermoehlen said.

Once he was given approval to start, Utermoehlen said he forwarded the district and many other leagues have now adopted a similar plan to Hancock’s and followed the same path he took to gain approval to begin June 1.

“I guess you could say Hancock LL set the precedent on resuming season with other leagues,” he said.

Right now, the plan is once Phase 2 is entered and group gatherings go to 50, games can be scheduled and run until mid to late August and finish the season off with a tournament for each division since there are no district or state tournaments this year.

“Hopefully we can remember 2020 at HLL as a fun exciting year, and not COVID-19 ruined,” Utermoehlen said.