Better late than never.
Those may be the four perfect words to describe this summer’s American Legion baseball season in Nebraska.
While games are starting up in mid-June instead of late May, that will still allow for a 1 1/2 month season for teams around the state, including Grand Island’s two seniors and two juniors squads.
If there would be any baseball at all was a question mark for much of this spring as the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports across the nation.
That means that the first pitches of the season might bring about different emotions than usual for coaches and players.
“After a long layoff of not doing anything baseball related, it’ll definitely be a different feeling,” first-year Home Federal head coach Kirby Wells said. “I’ve never taken three months off for anything as long as I’ve been coaching in either baseball or football. You’re always doing something.
“It was good to take a step back and realize the big picture. I enjoyed time with my newborn son and wife. But I’m extremely excited to get the baseball season started.”
First-year Tom Dinsdale Auto coach Trey Randall knows exactly what the players are feeling. The Northwest graduate and former Grand Island Senior High/Home Federal catcher saw his junior season at York College end after 23 games.
Now players who saw their spring high school seasons canceled can get in a condensed Legion season.
“For me, I’m still a college player at York, and I know how it felt when the sports world was shut down by COVID,” he said. “There was nothing that you could do about that. But we get back on the baseball field, and that’s going to be great to see some really competitive baseball back in Grand Island this year.”
Even though Legion baseball is resuming, it won’t look the same.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Grand Island Legion Baseball Board decided to not open the stadium at Ryder Park to the public this season. Even with the easing of the state’s Directed Health Measures concerning attendance at sporting events, the board established the rule that only players, coaches and umpires will be allowed inside the facility.
The green wind screens will not be put up on the outside fences this summer, allowing people to sit along them and watch games from there.
Following the DHMs has become a big part of coaches’ jobs.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Ryan Hansen, who is returning as a coach in the Grand Island Legion program leading U-Save Pharmacy this summer. “You get to the baseball field and there’s a familiarity. But then there are all the guidelines with the players. You have to keep them apart, which is hard at times because they forget. There are no team huddles.
“We sanitize like crazy. If you share a helmet, you have to sanitize it before the next kid uses it. I have five coaches, which is nice because with all of these rules I call myself a manager. I’m able to watch over everything. We don’t want to make mistakes that get anybody in trouble.”
Jake Redman, who is taking over Five Points Bank after being an assistant for his brother Josh for the past two years, said games will seem different for the team at first, especially with a large roster of 18 players.
“You’re used to sitting as a team in the dugout,” Redman said. “But we might have a few kids in the dugout, then you have some kids in the stands 20 feet away. It’ll be interesting keeping everyone engaged in the game when you have to be separated like that.”