Safety for both players and fans is the priority as the Home Talent League begins play July 4.
The guidelines for play were outlined in an email Monday, which came after league officials decided to go ahead with their July 4 start date this past weekend.
The 41-team amateur baseball league typically begins its season in early May, but opening day was postponed due to the ongoing public health risk associated with the spread of COVID-19.
The guidelines for conduct during games, in dugouts and as fans are suggestions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
At the end of the suggested guidelines, a message in capital letters and bold-faced font reads as follows: “These rules are being instituted to keep teams playing and the league operating. Failure to adhere may cause spikes and result in another shutdown. Please make sure your players and fans understand this.”
The guidelines include strict instruction to maintain six feet of separation between players and coaches, including in the dugouts. Teams are encouraged to set up seating for players outside of dugouts if a full roster may not fit within a single dugout.
Sanitation is expected for each team before and after each contest. All shared equipment, including bats and helmets, is to be sanitized after each use. Teams are discouraged from sharing helmets and bats to reduce the number of shared surfaces.
The guidelines include a prohibition on spitting for players, including: contact with the mouth and hand for a pitcher, and spitting of tobacco or sunflower seeds.
It’s unclear how these rules will be enforced on game day.
Should a player or anyone involved in a game contract COVID-19, it’s recommended that all players, umpires and coaches be tested immediately. Anyone who tests positive is recommended to quarantine for 14 days.
“If a player (tests positive) for contracting the virus (they) must be quarantined for 14 days and we strongly suggest each player and team official present gets tested before the next game,” HTL president Pat Reilly said in an email accompanying the guidelines. “It is strongly suggested the opposing team and umpires get tested also.
“If the opposing team the next week does not want to play the team with the infected player the game will be made up or cancelled. The Executive Board also will meet with public health officials to determine if league play should continue.”
As for the most fundamental ingredient for baseball to be played, the league is suggesting guidelines for game balls during games.
“Home team will supply the baseballs for the game,” the suggested guidelines said. “It is recommended that each team receives three baseballs before the game and keeps them until conclusion of the game. Pitchers take one ball with them to the mound when it is their turn to pitch with the other two balls placed on the ground near the home plate umpire. After each half inning the umpire will roll the balls toward the dugout of the team leaving the field.”
Foul balls were not specifically addressed in this email. Guidelines for how to get foul balls returned to the dugouts for play will vary by location.
Fort Atkinson Generals manager Sam Hartwick indicated two players would responsible for tracking down foul balls while fans are strongly discouraged from touching baseballs or returning them to the dugout under any circumstances.