Thursday was a big day in Ohio for the re-opening of some sports.
Gov. Mike DeWine tweeted on Wednesday, “Low-contact or non-contact sports can resume on May 26 if they can meet safety protocols. More details on safety protocols will be posted soon at http://coronavirus.ohio.gov. Other high-contact sports are still being considered.”
Among those low-contact or non-contact sports are baseball and tennis.
Zak Blair, a Jefferson graduate and B2 Bulls baseball owner/coach, said it was a very emotional day.
“It’s definitely a positive day. June 15, that’s what I was hoping for,” Blair said, referring to a potential start date. “I haven’t been to the baseball facility in 60 days.”
Blair owns the B2 facility in Wickliffe. He has nine teams 9U-18U and 122 players overall, including several from Ashtabula County.
“I was very fortunate to be on an advisory committee,” he said. “Me and eight other guys from around the state. Some days, we had Zoom calls for 12 hours.”
Blair said he was scrolling through social media about three weeks ago and noticed youth sports weren’t accounted for.
“I talked with different coaches, including my high school coach Scott Barber and my coach at Mercyhurst, Joe Spano,” Blair said. “I talked to guys from Northwest Ohio to Cincinnati to Southeast Ohio, to see if there’s a chance we can do this safely.”
As it turned out, one of the committee members had a connection with DeWine.
“He knows DeWine’s youth sports director,” Blair said.
The committee put together a 20-point plan, ranging from the viability of players wearing masks to temperature checks at the gate to social distancing to no players in the dugout to changing out the baseballs every half inning.
Blair said the next step is to see what facilities and high schools are open.
But there are still gray areas that need to be worked out.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, but I think baseball will be played in some capacity,” Blair said. “We’ll stay in line about what the governor dictates.”
As far as the B2 teams’ schedules, two tournaments have been canceled, but the 14U-18U teams are scheduled to start June 4 and play 45 to 50 games.
“We have to be flexible,” Blair said.
The former Mercyhurst player and draft choice by the Chicago Cubs said baseball is more than just a game.
“It’s about these kids being able to be with their teammates,” Blair said. “Baseball provides much more than athletic appearances. Baseball will provide values to these boys that will last a lifetime. They need this.”
But ultimately, it comes down to following guidelines and cooperation among the teams.
“We want to make sure they’re safe and we have to do it the right way,” Blair said.
St. John tennis coach Todd Nassief was also pleased with Thursday’s announcement.
“I think it’s great. I feel like tennis should be one of the first sports that comes back,” he said. “I know that there are a lot of people out there playing golf right now, and I feel like tennis should be another one that’s rolled out early … you are social distancing, you’re staying away.
“You can actually not touch a common ball — one person can have one set of tennis balls and the other can use a different set. But I’ve played a few times, I’m not going to lie, and I felt real comfortable. We don’t high-five. We don’t shake hands after, we just touch racquets.”
Nassief envisions having a ladder this summer, though it may be in a different format to limit the number of people standing by and waiting. In the first couple of years of the ladder, competitors would challenge each other online, meet at a court, play a match and record it online.
“I don’t care what age they are … I want everybody to play tennis this summer,” Nassief said. “I don’t think a lot of families are going away on vacations as much [this summer] and the kids need something to do. Tennis is a great sport to do that and I think it’s very safe.”
Nassief’s long-range goal is to have a high school boys county championship and a high school girls county championship tournament in July.