It was a long nearly four months on the local sports scene with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out all organized athletics throughout the spring and into the summer.
With Phase 3 of Massachusetts' plan to re-open the state in full effect, a pair of local leagues have shown how it's done when it comes to resuming play.
Last week, America's oldest active amateur baseball league, the Intertown Twilight Baseball League, opened up the 2020 season and this week Gloucester Little League followed with its opening day.
Both leagues faced many challenges to open up and waited patiently until the time was right. Both deserve major kudos for not only getting it done, but showing other leagues how to do it, and it starts with cooperation.
There are lots of strict guidelines that both the ITL and Gloucester Little League, which is now merged with Rockport, must follow, and it was the cooperation from all parties involved in both leagues that made it happen.
The ITL is a men's league that houses six teams this season from Manchester Essex, Rockport, Ipswich/Topsfield, Beverly, Rowley and Hamilton. In games at Memorial Field in Essex, Patten Park in Hamilton and Evans Field in Rockport last week, the players and managers did an excellent job policing themselves to put out the usual quality product.
High fives were replaced with glove taps or helmet taps. Bats and balls were kept clean throughout and squads put on masks when the situation called for it, some even choosing to wear one while playing in the field.
"We need everyone to buy into what we're trying to do," Gloucester Little League President Jamie Marshall said of the 2020 season.
In Monday night's openers at Boudreau Field, there was 100% buy-in as two games went off without any trouble and laid the groundwork for future competition.
Little League Baseball features players from ages 9-12 -- Gloucester has two separate leagues for nine and 10 year olds and 11 and 12 year olds -- and the kids fully cooperated with the social distancing measures, which has to be difficult for an active kid who has been itching to play the game with their friends and teammates over the last few months.
The Little League coaches basically have to coach two areas of the game now with the action on the field needing their attention as well as the social distancing measures on the team's benches, and the coaches nailed their part. The rules were followed to a T as the players were still able to interact and social distance.
The bench area, which now consists of a taped off area behind the fence line on each side of home plate, was organized with spaces circled for each player to sit or stand and, as they were in the ITL, masks were worn at the appropriate moments.
As a result, the parents, who also did their part by letting the kids play and coaches coach, were treated to some strong baseball, and will continue to be treated to some quality action on the diamond.
It's still early and there will surely be more challenges to come, but the ITL and Gloucester Little League understand what needs to be done and have already shown the commitment to continue to play under these circumstances. It's a great example of coming together to achieve a common goal.