MISSOULA — Organized youth sports are expected to return to Missoula on Monday when Mount Sentinel Little League baseball and Garden City Softball Little League begin their seasons.
“We’re very excited for the opportunity for the children to play,” Max Cannon, Umpire in Chief of Mount Sentinel Little League, told the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. “We’re calling it a healing process for the children and the families and kind of bringing all these families back together. The kids have been missing their friends, and this is a great avenue in a controlled environment.”
Mount Sentinel Little League will host a six-week season that runs from Monday through the end of July, playing primarily on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and occasionally on Thursday. They’ll host a mini postseason tournament between their teams in the first week of August.
Games will start at 6 p.m. at the Dale Clawson Complex at Playfair Park. They’re scheduled for six innings and will have a two-hour time limit.
There will be six Major-level baseball teams — for kids aged 10-12 years — with four from Missoula, one from Florence and one from Lolo Little League. There will be five Minor A-level teams — for kids aged 9-10 years — all from Missoula.
The Florence and Lolo teams can join MSLL because Little League Baseball and Softball has lifted its defined boundaries this year because the organization “wants to give all kids a chance to play," Cannon said.
He estimated Mount Sentinel has retained 75% of the baseball players who originally signed up to play the season, which would normally start in April. There are an average of 12 players per team, he added.
Mount Sentinel can begin its season because its proposal was accepted by the Missoula City-County Health Department, Cannon said. That wasn’t the case for the Missoula Mavericks’ Legion baseball tournament that was canceled Friday, according to an order from MCCHD to cancel the event, although the Mavs’ non-tournament home games are still on as scheduled. Garden City submitted its own proposal that Cannon said was approved.
For Mount Sentinel, there will only be one umpire per game instead of two. That umpire will be calling balls or strikes and safe or out from between the pitching mound and second base, offset to one side so they’re not in the batter’s line of sight.
Coaches will do sanitizing and cleaning in the dugout throughout the game. Players can bring a drink in a plastic bottle into the dugout, but food, including seeds, isn’t allowed.
There won’t be any team meetings to pass out snacks afterward; people will be instructed to head home when the game ends. There also won’t be any handshakes between teams after the game.
“Just a tip of the hat out of respect,” Cannon said.
Lines were painted on the grass behind the dugouts and extending behind the home plate fence to the other dugout so that spectators don’t stand too close to the fences. Family members are allowed to sit together, and those who aren’t related are asked to observe six feet of social distance, which has been implemented during the past two weeks of practice.
“These last two weeks, we’ve been practicing social distancing as adults because we have to recognize that or else if we don’t do it properly, then the kids are going to suffer again from it,” Cannon said.
There will be six to eight games going on at one time, he noted. Mount Sentinel Little League will also be hosting T-Ball games, and there will be softball games hosted by Garden City Softball Little League.
Only one game will be played on each field per day. The fields will all be cleaned by the league’s board of directors afterward.
“The reason for the cleaning is when we leave the ballpark, we don’t know who’s going to be running around or just walking,” Cannon said. “We want to protect the general public as well.”
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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