UTICA, Ohio (WCMH) — The sun beats down on 24 student-athletes at Utica Legion Field. Sweat beading on their brows, dust lurking from players’ gloves, and a distinct sound of a baseball being cracked by a player swinging for the fences.
Baseball came back. Despite social distancing requirements, wearing a mask in the dugout, and tipping the cap instead of shaking hands after a game, the players and families are proud to return to the diamond.
Many of the young men, like Jordan McCormack and Landon Mabe, are just getting started for the season. These two are going to be seniors at Elgin High School and play for the Patriots. They have missed the time on the field and are glad to be back at it.
“It hurt. It hurt a lot,” said McCormack about not playing this spring. “It feels good to be back out here.”
He chuckled a little when asked if he was in baseball shape yet to which he responded “Not hitting.”
“I love it. It’s amazing. Baseball is my favorite sport,” said Mabe. “I’m glad to be back out here.”
John Landon coaches the Patriots. Most of his team of 11 boys attend Elgin and the goal is to improve the school program.
“This is a tight-knit group like most of these travel ball teams,” said Landon.
Two months ago, the boys and parents asked him what was going to happen with the season.
“I said guys, ‘There’s not a chance we’re playing,'” said Landon. “You’re seeing what I’m seeing. The numbers are still going up, the fear is there. And then boom. They dropped it in our lap in the last minute.”
The last-minute boom Landon is referring to is the state giving the green light to play baseball this summer.
That left the team scrambling for jerseys and scheduling tournaments.
“Typically, I get them real nice vests or button-up jerseys,” said Landon.
When he went to order uniforms, the suppliers explained to him that the turnaround time was too quick because of the disruption to the supply chain. The team settled for red t-shirts with blue lettering.
“Luckily, I ordered us some COVID-19 hats just in case the season didn’t happen. That way we’d have some souvenirs,” said Landon jokingly.
In order to play the game, the teams and fans have to follow guidelines posted on the gate to each dugout. The guidelines are lengthy. Some of the fans find them bothersome, but say they will tolerate them in order to watch their loved one play America’s pastime.
“There’s nothing like seeing the boys outside playing,” said Brittney Ketter. “Yesterday was perfect. We had baseball.”
Ketter’s son plays for the Patriots.
“I’m a cheerleader. I love to cheer on all my boys,” said Ketter. “Just hearing the chatter in the background, especially when it’s your kid, it builds everybody up.”
Adam Jenkins is the Sports Director for the Licking County Family YMCA. He explained to NBC4i.com on the phone that hosting tournaments take a lot of work. This year, he said working with the state and local health departments to organize guidelines took time. He encourages anyone attending the parks or games to adhere to the guidelines in order to continue hosting events like this tournament.
The Patriots lost 10-2 (updated after video was published) to the Rampage, but even though Ketter’s boys did not win the game, she still considers playing the game a win toward returning to normal.
“I and a lot of others just want normalcy,” said Ketter. “This is part of it. So, we’re on to the right track.”