The Boys of Summer here in Baker County will finally get to play some organized baseball for the first time in almost a year.
Two teams of local teenagers will play an abbreviated schedule over the next six weeks, facing off against teams from places including Pendleton, Hermiston, La Grande and The Dalles.
Baker’s players were excited to return to competition after a spring in which high school baseball was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Baker Little League season was also canceled.
“This was the longest I’ve gone ever without playing baseball,” said Silas Carter, who will be a junior at Baker High School this fall. “Realizing that I got to play again during the summer, I almost cried, I was so happy.”
Baker baseball players have been practicing for the past 3 weeks under guidelines from the Oregon School Activities Association.
Baker Coach Tim Smith said the summer schedule, which usually includes about 35 games, has been trimmed this year to 20.
“Everything is just moving forward, the concern we are getting now is when we get to games how to handle spectators and maintain social distancing,” Smith said. “We aren’t going to push the envelope on the 250 people in one spot.”
That’s the limit on the number of people attending a gathering under phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which Baker County started June 6.
Smith encourages spectators to bring their own chairs rather than sitting in the bleachers.
Smith said the overriding priority of protecting players also prompted him to divide the players into two teams, one for ages 16 and under, one for 18 and under.
The goal is to keep those teams — or “pods,” the term officials are using — separate.
“In a normal year, we might be floating kids back and forth a little more than we will, that’s why we developed the 16U pod and that 18U pod,” Smith said, “We are trying as best we can to not mix those pods.”
Smith said coaches will be sanitizing equipment frequently. Any player who shows potential COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever, will stay home.
On June 30 Baker’s 16U team traveled to La Grande and played a doubleheader against Enterprise, losing the first game 10-8 and winning the second game 16-6.
Carter reached base in five of his seven at-bats.
“I did my best at the plate that I have in a while,” Carter said. “I was really happy about it.”
Baker’s 18U team lost 13-8 to Pendleton on July 1.
The main objective for summer baseball is giving players a chance to improve, and Smith said he knows the Baker teams won’t take the games for granted.
“This is like getting one of our two seasons back, and we have already seen some progression in practice,” Smith said. “This reduced schedule will put us in the better position than if we weren’t able to play.”
The summer schedule is set to culminate the first week of August with a 16U tournament at the Baker Sports Complex Aug. 3-5, while the 18U squad plays in a round robin tournament Aug. 6-8 at La Grande.