By: Robert Stevens
May 6 will mark the one-year anniversary of Robert Julian’s (Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League President) announcement of the cancellation for the 2020 season. Now, 11 months later, the PGCBL is full steam ahead to a complete 2021 season.
This upcoming season will emphasize the ability to handle COVID-19 while taking a shot at normalcy for its players, coaches and fans. The PGCBL’s 2021 schedule will have some alterations from prior seasons due to restrictions based on the numerous counties incorporated into the league. Most of these alterations revolve around limiting the amount of travel for each team and having a rolling approach to cross-divisional games rather than rescheduling.
Julian mentions that this may involve certain teams being unable to play a full schedule when the season culminates. This factor hasn’t deterred his primary mission to keep everyone safe.
“The number one objective is to play the season safely,” Julian said. “Objective number two is to play the season with as much regularity and normality as we can achieve within the context of the first objective.”
Dr. George Carlo, a consultant and member of the PGCBL’s COVID-19 committee, is preparing for constant adjustments throughout the season. With the addition of the Central Division for the PGCBL due to the Auburn Doubledays, Batavia Muckdogs, Niagara Power and Jamestown Tarp Skunks joining the league, each division will likely have its own guidelines with more counties coming up to bat.
“The community spread rate is going to determine what we’re able to do in different counties,” Dr. Carlo said. “We might have one set of guidelines in one county versus another”
Dr. Carlo emphasized the importance of communication between the league and local elected officials to ensure everyone’s safety.
“Once we have a schedule, our plan is going to be to systematically reach out to the health departments and decision makers in each of the relevant counties to gather some sort of informal basis,” Dr. Carlo said. “The objective is to have them feel comfortable that we can have some uniformity.”
When deciding which regulations to follow and ensure for the 2021 season, the PGCBL’s COVID-19 committee had some templates to play off, with Major League Baseball conducting its shortened 2020 season. Additionally, the MLB just released its 2021 operations manual. This covers a variety of topics including, but not limited to testing protocols, media broadcast access, ballpark operations and even details on how to store baseballs safely.
“Back then everybody was guessing,” Dr. Carlo said. “Now we’ve had first-hand knowledge so we can make informed decisions more efficiently. The professional leagues have been the test pilots for how to navigate through COVID-19 challenges while keeping players safe and allowing them to do what they do.
While the MLB provides a great outline, adjustments will be made to follow NYS guidelines.
“We can learn from the big leagues. We’re going to try to follow as best as we can what is in the Major League Baseball operations manual, and then we’re going to have to make some modifications based on what the state of New York is going to require of us.”
One glimpse of hope for PGCBL fans is the opportunity for fan attendance for this upcoming season. This of course doesn’t come without extreme limitations. On February 10, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that sporting events in major stadiums and arenas can reopen with limited spectators on February 23. As of April 1, capacity is limited to 20 percent for outdoor venues that hold 2,500 or more. This has launched the Department of Health to inspect eligible venues across the state. This leaves hope in the hearts of the PGCBL that their ballparks will get approval.
“The state has a large stadium standard that they’re applying for outdoor fan presence,” Julian said. “I view that as a standard that will become more flexible with the passage of time, and my expectation is that as we get closer, make the case if we need to. Likewise, the policing of facilities and the exact nature of current circumstances flow downstream.”
According to Julian, despite the hopes that fans will be in attendance, there will still be multiple regulations that the fans must follow including social distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands and washing down the seats before and after every ball game.
There will also be an emphasis on streaming. The PGCBL will look to see streaming and broadcasting grow into larger roles this season to bring the experience to the fans.
For players, the PGCBL regulations will restrict on-field interactions as the image of social distancing and masking are expected to be in effect through the summer. The biggest concern is going to be regulations put in place for off-field activity.
“In some cases, where we have host families, we’re going to have to work out ways of making sure that we keep track of those extended pods, if you will,” Dr. Carlo said. “We’re going to have to have players identify who their contacts are going to be so that we already have that information in case somebody tests positive, you have contact tracing. We’re going to have restrictions on what happens after hours.”
The PGCBL’s COVID-19 committee acknowledges the reality that its players are young and active. In order to face that head on, the league will be aiming to test players two to three times per week while implementing quarantine and isolation rules if anyone tests positive.
“We will always be impressing upon players that their safety is the most important thing,” Dr. Carlo said. “After their safety is the safety of their teammates and the safety of the staff.”
Dr. Carlo reiterated the importance of the teamwork mindset for all players and staff across the PGCBL.
“We’re going to impress upon them that we’re all in this together,” Dr. Carlo said. “If a person goes rogue, he’s not only risking his own health and well being, but that of his teammates and that of his team.”
The PGCBL schedule has been released with the Blue Sox opening the season at Watertown on June 3. As the world continues to move forward, the PGCBL remains disciplined in ensuring that safety will be the priority.
“Safety is our primary goal,” Dr. Carlo said. “For the players, for the fans, for the families of the players, we are going to make the best decisions we can to ensure safety. Keeping in mind that these guys come to play baseball to hone their skills and to improve their chances of getting to the professional level. So, we’re going to try our best to always deliver that but safety will take precedence.”