Baseball is scheduled to return to East Field on Monday, in the form of the Independent Collegiate Baseball League.
The Glens Falls Independents make their debut as part of a new four-team league, a one-year answer to baseball in the pandemic era, with a home doubleheader at 5:30 p.m. against the Albany Athletics.
Amid continuing concerns over coronavirus just as the Capital Region begins Phase 4 of the state reopening plan, the team opens its 30-game schedule Monday. The season runs through Aug. 13, with doubleheaders scheduled three times a week. Games will be played only at East Field and Amsterdam’s Shuttleworth Park.
“We just want to help out kids in the whole region to least have a place to play baseball,” said Ben Bernard, the Dragons’ owner who helped put together the new league. “Losing a whole year of baseball isn’t good for any kid.”
The four teams — Amsterdam and two Albany-based teams are also in the league — draw from local college players. Most of those players lost their college and summer-league seasons to the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, which began in March. The Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, which includes the Glens Falls Dragons, shut down its season on May 6.
The team is managed by Steve St. Claire, a former Whitehall standout. He is assisted by Pete Brown, a former minor-leaguer, and Steve Dunkel.
The 40th year of baseball at East Field will be like no other. There are many health and safety protocols in place for players and the limited number of fans who can get in.
Each player is allowed to have two fans in attendance, which is capped at 120, Bernard said. Pairs of fans are required to sit in marked areas on the bleachers, 6 feet apart, every other bleacher. Fans must wear a face mask to and from their seats, but may remove them once seated. No mingling or congregating is permitted.
Bernard said it’s possible other fans not associated with players might be able to attend games, if there is room under the 120-person cap. Anyone who wants to attend should call the team at 518-746-4121 to see if space is available.
Bernard said there are plans to live stream the games on the Internet.
Concessions will be outdoor sit-down dining only, at picnic tables spaced out along the first-base side. Orders will be placed and served restaurant-style.
“We’ll go by the governor’s guidelines and see where it goes from there,” Bernard said.
Team members must get tested for coronavirus before the season and have their temperature checked upon arrival at the ballpark. All players are expected to bring and use their own equipment, and they must sign an agreement to adhere to the safety protocols for the season — including no high-fives on the field.
Bernard said the team would practice social distancing, even in the dugout. Hand sanitizer will be available everywhere and even baseballs will be wiped down.
“We can put eight or 10 guys in the dugout, and the rest of the team can actually sit in the stands — we’ll have plenty of space,” Bernard said.
The games will also look a little different. They are being run like a scrimmage, with one umpire who will be stationed behind the pitcher’s mound instead of behind the plate. Because of the close quarters, the first baseman will wear a mask when someone is on base.
“It will be more like fall baseball,” Bernard said. “It’ll be a more relaxed thing, just to get kids back on the field.”
The team itself has only had a few practices, each with only half the team, socially distanced.
“We can only have so many guys at a time for now because of safety protocols,” Bernard said. “Which is fine, we don’t want to screw this up.”
St. Claire, a former pitcher who helped Whitehall to a state championship in 1984, has been out of baseball for many years.
“(Bernard) needed someone to do it, and I said I would,” said St. Claire, whose son Evan is on the team. Evan St. Claire is also a former Whitehall standout who now plays at Siena College.
“It’s just to get the kids back on the field, give them some at-bats and get ready for fall, if they have a fall season,” Steve St. Claire said. “The kids have had to do everything on their own (to get ready). The first week, the pitchers won’t be throwing many innings — their arms aren’t ready.”
The team is carrying about 30 players — half of them pitchers.
Among the players on the Independents’ roster are South Glens Falls’ Nate and Eric Corhouse, Lake George’s Jack Kelleher, Schuylerville’s Carson Dunkel, former Saratoga Catholic standout Terel Tillman, and Saratoga Springs’ Nate Chudy and Brad Hipsley. Evan St. Claire, Hipsley and Chudy were all with the Dragons last summer. Several SUNY Adirondack players are on the roster.
“All the kids are looking forward to it,” Steve St. Claire said. “They’ll get a chance to compete a little bit.”
Follow Pete Tobey on Twitter @PTobeyPSVarsity.
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