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Play ball! (Well, practice ball, at least)

  •  Jack Cocozella gets a spritz of hand santizer from Pam Jaquith before entering the field. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Junior Swamp Bats resumed baseball activities Saturday for the first time under New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu's guidelines for youth sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • A folder full of documents coaches must fill out to document compliance with COVID-19 protocols (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Junior Swamp Bats resumed baseball activities Saturday for the first time under New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu's guidelines for youth sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Junior Swamp Bats resumed baseball activities Saturday for the first time under New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu's guidelines for youth sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Junior Swamp Bats resumed baseball activities Saturday for the first time under New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu's guidelines for youth sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Sean Agonis warms up. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Sam Scheinblum fields a throw at first base. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Junior Swamp Bats resumed baseball activities Saturday for the first time under New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu's guidelines for youth sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Junior Swamp Bats president Jim Fennell picks up freshly sanitized baseballs from a makeshift tray at the youth baseball league’s first practice on Saturday. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Junior Swamp Bats resumed baseball activities Saturday for the first time under New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu's guidelines for youth sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/2/2020 3:43:35 PM

As recreational sports programs in New Hampshire resume activities under the latest state COVID-19 guidelines, local coaches and players are happy to be back on the field while figuring out how to do so safely.

“Part of the problem is everyone has different interpretations of what’s safe and what’s not,” said Junior Swamp Bats president Jim Fennell. Although Governor Chris Sununu announced that practices for non-contact outdoor sports could resume, field usage is often dictated by the towns which own them. With their usual field in Marlborough not yet cleared for play by the town, and the Swamp Bats’ new indoor training facility still closed, the Keene-based youth baseball program was left looking for a place to play. On Saturday, the Swamp Bats practiced on fields in Swanzey after coming to an agreement with the local Cal Ripken organization. The 16U Select team stepped onto a field designed for much younger players, with no outfield fence. It’s not a permanent solution, but it was a chance to get back on a field – any field – and the players were raring to go.

“I was jumping out of my shoes, I was so excited to play,” said Sean Agonis of New Ipswich. “I love baseball and I want to play. Looking forward to the competition.”

Agonis and his Mascenic teammate Jack Cocozella were both ready to go for the spring high school season after training through the winter.

“It really sucked missing our school season, because I was really looking forward to playing that, and I think we were going to be pretty good this year,” Cocozella said.

When, or if, they’ll actually get to play a live game with the Junior Swamp Bats this summer is still unknown. The state guidelines say that athletics “will be limited to small group or team-based training activities. No competition sporting events or contact sports are allowed.” For now, the teams will participate in drills and practices to hone their skills for the real thing, while figuring out how to abide by the safety restrictions and still play baseball. Fennell said the Swamp Bats could have begun practicing the previous weekend following Sununu’s May 22 announcement, but they delayed it a week to ensure they were up to code.  

“All we’re doing is going by the governor’s guidelines,” Fennell said. “It’s black and white. You go by his guidelines, it’s black and white.”

On Saturday, that meant players were interviewed by a team parent before they took the field to see if they had any COVID-19 symptoms or had traveled internationally or via public transportation in the past 14 days. Their answers were documented and filed away, and each player received a spray of hand sanitizer before stepping through the gates to the field. On the field, players placed their bags at six-foot intervals and kept their distances as they were split into groups of nine or less for throwing, fielding and hitting drills. Baseballs for fielding practice were hit by coach Connor Longley, fielded by the players and thrown to first before being discarded to avoid reusing the same balls over and over. After buckets of baseballs were emptied, Fennell placed the balls on a makeshift sanitizing station and sprayed them down with sanitizer before returning them to the buckets for later use.

Those restrictions didn’t seem to slow down the practice much on Saturday as the players shook off their rust and got back into the swing of things. But when it comes time to play live games, the guidelines could put a damper on the social aspects of the sport.

“I don’t want to be out there wearing a mask,” said Sam Scheinblum of Peterborough, “not being able to be in the dugout with the boys. I want to spit, I want to chew seeds, I want to chew gum, give high fives.”

For players hoping to go on to the next level, playing this summer could be crucial for their development and exposure after missing out on a spring high school season and any of the college scouting opportunities that would have accompanied it. And with interstate tournaments or even large in-state showcases not currently approved, exposure to college scouts might be limited this summer, too. Plus, the NCAA ruling that athletes who lost their spring season would gain an extra year of eligibility means that returning fifth-year college seniors could take scholarships that would normally have gone to incoming freshmen. But Fennell said he’ll work to create those opportunities where he can. Once the indoor facility is cleared to reopen, players will be able to make videos in-house to show off their skills  and pop some big numbers on the radar gun to impress scouts. And if competition and eventually larger events are approved, he hopes to put together an end-of-season showcase.

“I feel good for our kids, especially our older kids, because some of them do want to play in college,” Fennell said. 


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