James Glavich had his lawn chair a good distance back from the others. The folks in those chairs, which were set up Friday close to the fence at one of the baseball fields at Babe Ruth Park — and close to each other — had a great view of the action.
They could have it, the resident of Pasco County might have thought. In these times, at any baseball field, the home-plate umpire shouldn’t be the only one wearing a mask.
“I got a pack of them in the console of my car,” said Glavich, slightly pulling down on his mask to be better understood. “It’s required for people to wear a mask (in Pasco County).
“But the main reason I’m doing it is there are so many different people here from all areas of the state.”
Just not as many as usual, one of the consequences of COVID-19 clamping down this year on sports across the country. Baseball played in the Babe Ruth League didn’t escape its debilitating reach, with teams and leagues forced to play far fewer games.
“Are you kidding?” responded a state official who wished to remain anonymous. “Completely different. Half the leagues didn’t hardly play at all. It was difficult to get all-star teams together.”
Florida, with one of the highest concentration of Babe Ruth leagues in the country, is divided into the north and south regions. Last year the south alone sent 19 teams, in the 13s, 14s and 15s, to the state tournament.
A total of 12 comprise this year’s tourney, north and south regions combined. “At the beginning of the year,” the official said, “we didn’t know if we’d get any season in.”
But for the first time since Babe Ruth baseball was formed in 1951, just three years after the death of the Sultan of Swat, the 2020 state tournament signals the end of the road for participating players.
COVID-19 forced the cancellation of regional play as well as the Babe Ruth League World Series. This year’s Little League World Series was quashed as well. Sarasota received its BR charter in 1955, making it one of the oldest charters in the country.
A gyp for the kids at this year’s tourney? You bet.
“They understand that this is it right here,” said Pablo Garcia, coach of the team from Hamilton County, which shares its northern border with Georgia and has a population of just 14,799. There are three red lights in the entire county.
But a team from a county so small, it usually sends just one team each year to the state tourney, didn’t hesitate in making the drive down. In fact, said Garcia, a team was organized at the last minute.
“We barely made a team,” he said. “But it’s a good experience for the kids.”
Fans attending this year’s tournament might notice a few changes. The grandstands have been roped off, forcing fans wanting to sit to bring their own chairs.
Between games the benches and poles in each dugout are sprayed with a disinfectant. And normally Babe Ruth uses three umpires in tourney play, but not wanting to bring in umps from other areas of the state, it’s using just two for this year’s play.
“We just try to make it possible for some of the kids who want to play ball,” the state official said, “to play ball.”
Going ahead with the state tourney proved a good decision. Officials said the response from teams around Florida was “unbelievable.”
Why not? The winners here can claim to be the state’s best.
“And that’s a lot.”