As Mississippi moves toward reopening many nonessential businesses, baseball organizations and facilities remain hopeful for their season.
Just as baseball season was beginning, the novel coronavirus swept through the nation, forcing a complete pause for all teams. One team impacted is the Easley Baseball Club (EBC) of North Mississippi. The organization, founded in 2017, consists of 37 baseball teams and eight softball teams.
“Some of our younger teams had already started playing, but some had planned to start the same weekend that everything shut down,” organization owner Ed Easley said.
One popular complex is Snowden Grove Park in Southaven. Director of Tournament Operations Scotty Baker said the park was forced to cancel six tournaments, leaving a major economic impact on the complex and community.
“We had to give full refunds, which hurts Snowden,” Baker said. “The surrounding hotels, restaurants, and stores are also hurt by having no tournaments because we are the main source of tourism for Southaven.”
Tournament cancelations have also increased the workload for EBC operations manager Tammie Miller, who has remained in constant contact with facilities and their tournament directors.
“I am always having to call for updates,” Miller said. “I have to see if playing these tournaments in the future is even doable.”
Because of the late start, teams are looking at the possibility of extending their seasons. While baseball season normally ends in June, the 2020 season may continue into July. However, Miller hopes July is as late as teams will need to play.
“These tournaments being pushed out could be hard with the older kids,” Miller said. “We have some who play Friday night football and wouldn’t be able to do both if we are pushed to August.”
Baker also acts as USSSA’s State Director for Mississippi and West Tennessee in addition to his role at Snowden Grove.
“People keep asking me when we can open back up, but it has nothing to do with USSSA at all,” Baker said. “It is all dictated by the federal government.”
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves aimed to end the state’s “Safer-At-Home” order on Monday, May 11, which would allow baseball games to resume the following weekend. However, teams such as EBC travel all throughout the South, to places in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
“It will come down to whether these out-of-state facilities are even hosting tournaments, and if we are comfortable going to them,” Easley said. “Ultimately, we will leave that decision up to parents.”
Easley sent polls to each team to gauge who would be willing to begin to play immediately following the suspension of the “Safer-At-Home” order. These resulted in about 95 percent of players and parents responding with an eagerness to start.
“As a baseball parent, I’m all about it,” Miller said. “I’m ready to get started, but will still take precautions.”
Some facilities have released protocols in place for safety measures. Snowden Grove, in particular, will completely remove bleachers, requiring spectators to supply their own chairs and remain six feet apart. The park will also close all concession stands.
“Snowden is so big, there is no way we could police every field,” Baker said. “Ultimately, it will be up to each team to police themselves.”
As for EBC, the coaches will take responsibility for ensuring protocols are followed by team members and their families. The organization has continually sent emails to parents with updates, and Easley says they will continue to do so as they receive new information on safety rules.
“We will be following all of the requirements and make sure all of our families are aware of them,” Easley said. “But we still want them to know that everything is completely optional and up to what makes each family feel more comfortable.”
Baker says Snowden Grove will adopt the same policy.
“The bottom line is, it’s a parental decision,” Baker said. “We aren’t forcing anyone to play, we’re just providing a venue for them.”
Chloe Baker is a journalism major at Ole Miss.