Youths play sandlot baseball at Miller Field in the summer of 2020. After COVID-19 sidelined a competitive season last summer, local players gathered to play sandlot ball. Thanks to a city-approved COVID-19 mitigation plan, the Gastineau Channel Baseball and Softball Leagues are planning a full, competitive season this summer. Registration is now open for players between the ages of 5 and 16. (Courtesy photo/Geoff Kirsch)

Youths play sandlot baseball at Miller Field in the summer of 2020. After COVID-19 sidelined a competitive season last summer, local players gathered to play sandlot ball. Thanks to a city-approved COVID-19 mitigation plan, the Gastineau Channel Baseball and Softball Leagues are planning a full, competitive season this summer. Registration is now open for players between the ages of 5 and 16. (Courtesy photo/Geoff Kirsch)

Take me out to the ball game

The Gastineau Channel Baseball and Softball Leagues expect a full, competitive season.

Play ball!

After COVID-19 forced the 2020 season into the dugout, the Gastineau Channel Baseball and Softball Leagues are ready to play this season.

“In Alaska, you have to plan ahead,” said Geoff Kirsch, information officer for the league, in a phone interview last week. “Even though it’s been like 7 degrees outside, there will be Little League baseball this summer. Registration is open.”

The season will begin in late April or early May, depending on the weather and field conditions, Kirsch said. Children between the ages of five and 16 years old are eligible to play. The league typically attracts several hundred players between baseball and softball. Teams will play and practice throughout town into late June.

Kirsch said the return to baseball feels like a return to a sense of normal.

“Kids playing a kids game in the sun on a Saturday, there’s something very comforting about it,” he said. “Kids and pros play the same game, but there’s something different about kids playing baseball, something really awesome. It’s a different thing—it’s even more entertaining,” he said.

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COVID-19 Protocols facilitate return to play

Softball and baseball are the first organized competitive youth sports to resume play in Juneau.

A COVID-19 mitigation plan in place with the City and Borough of Juneau is the key that opens the door to play.

“We are going to be able to do a full season. We will have competitive teams and a local tourney at the end and the regional tournament, depending on conditions. As of right now, it seems like we can do that,” Kirsch said.

Kirsch said that mitigation plans include physical distancing, sanitation procedures, and requiring each player to use their own personal equipment. Umpires will stand in the field instead of behind home plate. Players will stand down the sidelines instead of using the dugout throughout the game. Chewing and spitting sunflower seeds and high-fives with physical contact will all be banned. All high-fives will be air-high fives.

“In many ways, baseball is perfect for physical distancing—it’s much easier than football, basketball or wrestling,” Kirsch said.

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Pivoting in 2020

After COVID-19 sidelined a competitive season last summer, local players gathered to play sandlot ball. Thanks to a city-approved COVID-19 mitigation plan, the Gastineau Channel Baseball and Softball Leagues are planning a full, competitive season this summer. The season is expected to begin in March or April, depending on field conditions. (Courtesy photo/Geoff Kirsch)

After COVID-19 sidelined a competitive season last summer, local players gathered to play sandlot ball. Thanks to a city-approved COVID-19 mitigation plan, the Gastineau Channel Baseball and Softball Leagues are planning a full, competitive season this summer. The season is expected to begin in March or April, depending on field conditions. (Courtesy photo/Geoff Kirsch)

Like many organizations, the league had to take a different approach for the 2020 season. Instead of a competitive season, local baseball players had a chance to play sandlot ball, which was informal.

“It was a much smaller number of kids but was really fun,” Kirsch said. “It was kid-led, but adults monitored it to make sure that all the rules were followed and COVID protocols were in place.”

Ready to sign up?

Who: Boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16

How: Visit www.JuneauLittleLeague.com

When: Discounted registration is available through Feb. 26. After that, full-price registration is open. After March 27, new registrants may be placed on a waiting list. Player evaluations will happen in March at the Dimond Park Field House.

Contact Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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