WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) -- This year's Little League World Series and the championship tournaments in six other Little League divisions have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Little League President Stephen Keener says it would be "impossible" to hold the events amid ongoing restrictions on large gatherings and travel.
The Little League World Series has been held every August since 1947 and had never been canceled before. The annual major league game held during the event in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, also has been canceled.
But Keener said there was reason for optimism that teams could play this spring and summer, depending on restrictions in states and localities.
"Baseball wants to be played. Baseball needs to be played," says Dave Hymowitz, president of the Shaler Area Little League.
Yet this spring, bleachers remain empty.
Will Graves, the president of the Monroeville Baseball Association says they have been getting ready for a long time. Opening Day was supposed to happen last weekend: "We started planning for this season last October."
There is no chatter from the dugout benches.
"We are going to do everything in our power to have a season," says Hymowitz, "but we also have to wait because the last thing we want to do is put any of our children in danger."
There has been no joy in Mudville, and not because the Mighty Casey struck out. This spring, he never got to bat.
When asked if he was optimistic about youth baseball being played in the Pittsburgh area this year, Graves paused, then replied. "I'm hopeful. Optimistic? It's when you just crunch the numbers, it just gets -- as the days pass -- it gets harder and harder to sort of thread that needle."
Many young baseball players have dreamed of putting on the mask for a long time, but they wanted a catcher's mask, not a surgical mask. Now, the men and women who volunteer to run the area leagues say they can't wait to hear the words, "Play ball!"
With Thursday's announcement by Little League, it means there is no chance for Shaler's 12-year-olds to play their way to Williamsport, but Hymowitz is confident the regular season can be played.
"We provide a service for our community and that's the most important thing that we want to do, is make sure that that when kids sign up to play baseball or softball at Shaler Area Little League, literally that they're coming to play baseball and softball," he says.
The Little League announcement means summer all-star and travel tournaments may get scrubbed, but it should give more kids a chance to play in local in-house leagues.
Graves is grateful for that. "If they have a spring where they don't play and then next spring rolls around they say, 'Ah, you know what I didn't play last year, and it was fine.' I don't want to lose those kids by any stretch. That's my biggest fear."
Both local league presidents say their sponsors have been steadfast in support of youth sports.
"It doesn't cost a lot of money to sponsor a team in our league," Graves comments. Yet he acknowledges this spring has been hard on small businesses too. "That might be a part-time employees' paycheck."
While it may be weeks or more than a month before kids are walking up to the plate, leagues say they will be ready when the time comes.
"It may be a different version of what we have done before, but we want to echo that message that we are playing," says Hymowitz. "What that means and what it looks like, we just don't know."
Baseball is, after all, our national pastime. Hymowitz is counting on the game helping the country heal after COVID-19.
"Baseball and softball is something that can unify us and bring our community together when that time is right," he says.
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