Youth baseball could go on without national events

The gates are locked and concession stand closed at Pendleton Park in Harlingen as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the South Texas Little League to hit pause on the spring season. By Claire Cruz, Valley Morning Star

By CLAIRE CRUZ, Staff Writer

HARLINGEN — Baseball seasons could return soon for local youth, but their journeys won’t lead to World Series banners.

Little League International announced April 30 that it was canceling the World Series for the first time since the event began in 1947, along with the seven regional tournaments and the regional qualifying events for the 2020 season.

The national PONY organization followed suit, announcing Friday the cancelation of eight baseball and three softball World Series events. Local leagues can resume activity in less than two weeks if they get the all clear from local governments.

South Texas Little League president Bobby Davidson said it doesn’t look promising that the almost 500 children involved in his organization will play in the spring, but he’s holding out hope that baseball will return in the summer.

“The hope of a spring season is pretty much gone,” Davidson said. “After May 11, Little League is allowing leagues to meet and evaluate, based on their areas, the viability of having a summer season and picking up in June or July and playing until August. But a lot of that stuff is going to be dependent on local restrictions.

“And once we get the green light, it becomes about if our parents and players are willing and able to come back, because a lot of people lost jobs and baseball might not be in the front seat of their priorities right now,” Davidson added.

The STLL has 38 teams with children ranging from 4 years old to 14 from the Harlingen area, and even has all-girls teams that play baseball against boys. Practices and meetings were just beginning when Little League initially suspended activities.

Though Davidson called it disappointing that baseball events are shutting down, he understands the decisions and doesn’t foresee any long-lasting impacts for the STLL. Not all leagues can say the same, particularly when it comes to finances, so Little League International also announced Thursday its plan to provide approximately $1.2 million to aid local leagues.

Following PONY’s decision to cancel World Series events due to COVID-19, Texas PONY directors will be meeting this week to establish a plan for leagues across the state. Area directors will meet next week with administrators of local leagues to discuss what the next steps will be.

East Valley PONY youth baseball officials are anticipating financial and participation complications due to the growing impact of the coronavirus on youth sports.

San Benito Youth Baseball and Softball League president Sal Castillo said his organization “will consider playing if we have enough teams that come back” if city officials allow. Sebastian PONY Express secretary Rodney Rivera said his league will have to battle youth football leagues and summer plans as it tries to keep participation up, and is looking at reopening its season “in conjunction with other leagues.”

“One thing I am coming across is some of these other leagues, the interlocking leagues, are gearing up for football seasons already, so that’s making it difficult to try to have a summer season,” Rivera said. “You have parents that already have other things happening during that span that may not allow for kids to be able to play, like family vacations or going out of town.”

Despite possible obstacles and the lack of major Little League events this year, Davidson said the STLL wants to give children a chance to play baseball. Little League presidents across the Valley are having a district meeting Wednesday to discuss the logistics of late summer or early fall seasons and safety measures that should be in place.

“The kids are locked up in their houses and they need some kind of normalcy, so we’ll try to provide that as best we can whether it’s in the summer or fall,” Davidson said. “I know some cities are not going to try and continue for 2020, but our league has had a strong response from parents and volunteers to try and return. As soon as everything’s safe and we’re able to, we’re going to bring baseball back to our kids here in Harlingen.”