01STOCK_BASEBALL

The baseball wasn’t crisp, but at least there was a game.

The group of Milton fans that made the hour-long journey north on Highway 26 showed that baseball, or any sport for that matter, is needed at this point.

The Milton Raptors opened their Rock River League season Sunday with a 7-3 loss at Neosho, but the outcome wasn’t what was news.

Even with the loss, Raptors manager Doug Welch welcomed the chance to get back on the diamond in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was really good to play,” Welch said Sunday night. “It felt more like normal.”

What was normal was the hitting of Josh Shere, who went 3-for-4 with a double.

What wasn’t normal was the 17 strikeouts Raptor hitters put up, and the several bloops or popups off Neosho bats that fell between fielders.

“You could tell our timing was off,” Welch said.

That can be said of us all.

The Raptors took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. McCauley Cox had an RBI double to score Kevin Raisbeck, who had walked. Cox later scored on a bases-loaded walk.

“I said, ‘Here we go,’” Welch said of the first-inning success.

But Neosho spoiled the visitors’ fun with a four-run fourth inning and added two more in the sixth.

Milton left the bases loaded in one inning and stranded two in another.

“We did turn two really good double plays,” Welch said of another positive.

While Sunday broke the months-long inactive streak for most sports in the area, the Raptors now might be benched for another two weeks.

The Rock River schedule has the Raptors inactive next weekend. Welch said he is working with some Home Talent League teams to schedule a possible exhibition game during the July 4th weekend. The team’s next scheduled game is July 12 at Helensville.

The Raptors are still homeless, with the Milton School District-managed Schilberg Park off limits until Rock County advances to the next phase of recovery from the pandemic.

At least the Rock River League teams still have a schedule. On Friday, the Home Talent League executive board canceled the league’s regular season amidst concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board voted 5-3 to continue moving toward a July 4 start to the regular season on June 22, but when a third team affiliated with the league had a positive test late last week, the league decided to cancel the season.

HTL teams had been scheduling and playing exhibition games in recent weeks. The teams can continue moving forward with those games—and Albion Tigers manager Matt Towns said Friday his team plans to do that—but those games will not fall under the Home Talent League umbrella.

Welch said he is working to find games for the Raptors, and playing HTL teams could be an option.

Finding games and accommodating sites are the latest challenges for Welch and the other area teams.

But the appetite for something to do outside was apparent in Neosho on Sunday.

“We had a nice crowd of Raptors fans,” Welch said. “And it really felt good to be out there again.”

Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette. Contact him at tmiller@gazettextra.com.

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