It’s going to look different, but there will be a Chippewa River Baseball League season this summer.
The league decided Wednesday night to go ahead with an eight-game season beginning the week of July 6. Nine of the amateur baseball league’s 11 teams will take part.
“Admittedly, it’s a little ambitious with eight games in six weeks,” CRBL secretary and Eau Claire Rivermen player-manager Andy Niese said. “We completely recognize and more than understand that we could get a few weeks into July and the virus could change our plans. ... But the overwhelming feeling in the league, from the players and managers, is that we should give it a try. I think not only within the realm of athletics, but everywhere, people are yearning for some form of normalcy.
“I would categorize the feeling as excitement, relief that we’re going to give it a try, and also a recognition that we’re getting into some uncharted waters here. There’s never been a CRBL season on record that has operated within a pandemic.”
The Eau Claire Cavaliers and Whitehall Wolves will not participate this season. The Cavaliers were set to celebrate their 50th season this summer, but that has been put on hold until next year. They were the reigning Wisconsin Baseball Association state champions.
Both the Cavaliers and Wolves announced that they had canceled their seasons on Thursday.
All of the other teams will play each other once, with the team with the best record at the end of the schedule being declared the champion.
The CRBL is expected to make a public announcement in the coming days, including a schedule. The target ending of the season is in August.
It will be up to teams to enforce county health guidelines at their respective fields.
“We’re going to be focusing on the distancing part, and teams might have to use their own baseballs,” Osseo Merchants manager Luke Anderson said. “No handshakes after games will be weird, but it’s going to have to be mandatory.”
Teams will adhere to the guidelines in their respective counties. Even with the Cavaliers and Whitehall dropping out, the CRBL is spread out, with teams as far north as Bloomer and as far south as Strum.
The Eau Claire Bears and Rivermen will not host games in Eau Claire due to local restrictions. Their home games will be played elsewhere.
While teams will need to enforce rules to limit fans from sitting near each other and update concession stand protocols, they’re still excited to be able to play baseball in some capacity.
“The guys are excited, but they’re cautious,” Anderson said. “We weren’t sure where we were at, what we were supposed to do in this situation. But based off what other leagues around us are doing, we’re going to be cautious and give it a go.”
Caution will be key. Even one positive COVID-19 test would cause some re-evaluation within the league.
“The expectation is that (any team with a positive test) would quarantine themselves for two weeks, as mandated by county health rules. And at that point, they wouldn’t be playing,” Niese said. “If multiple teams were infected by the virus, we would have to consider pulling the plug on the season.”
Osseo has won four consecutive CRBL championships and will look to add a fifth this summer. But they won’t do so through any sort of playoffs. The league in late May canceled its playoffs, all-star game and hall of fame ceremonies.
There will be baseball, but it will need to be done in the right way to make everything work.
“Fans are going to need to do their part as well. People are going to need to be smart about this,” Anderson said. “Ballparks are going to have a different look to them, with distancing and shielding for concessions stands. It’s up to everyone to do their little part, and if things go south, it’s done. So hopefully it doesn’t go that direction.”