Summer ball season arrives

Practices allowed starting June 1; games to follow in next phase

There may yet be some sort of summer baseball season in Ely.
While spring sports were cancelled and the American Legion baseball season was scrapped as well, all because of the coronavirus, Ely is joining numerous communities across the state in planning for a unique summer baseball campaign.
Practices are slated to begin Tuesday for three Ely area youth teams - although just when or even if they will play games remains uncertain.
Under Phase 2 of Minnesota’s “Stay Safe” initiative, youth sports teams may begin organized practice June 1, under guidelines released by the Minnesota Department of Health.
A special school board meeting in Ely is set for the same day to consider the Ely Baseball Association’s request to reopen the ballpark, which is owned by the school district.
It’s the first step toward a more traditional return to summer baseball, a longtime staple in Ely.
“Games are allowed in the following phase, but just when that will be we don’t know,” said Tom Coombe, Ely’s longtime American Legion baseball coach and summer baseball organizer. “But just to get back on the field is a positive step.”
While American Legion baseball is cancelled for the summer, Ely and many other baseball programs across the state plan to affiliate under the Senior Babe Ruth banner for 2020. It is for players age 19 and under.
For the 17 and under division, Ely will move from Junior Legion to VFW baseball for this summer, while the Iron Range Baseball league is set to move forward for players in the age 13-14 category, presuming games are permitted later this summer.
“In some ways, it will look like we have in other summers, with Ely fielding teams at three different levels,” said Coombe.
Game schedules are being formulated by area teams in hopes of a season that will begin in late-June or perhaps the start of July.
“I think anything at this point is better than nothing,” said Coombe. “You have kids who had their spring seasons taken from them, and this summer isn’t a normal summer by any means, but if they can get out and have some sort of season at least they are playing baseball.”
Youth baseball has started in several neighboring states, and Coombe said the game is more amenable to social distancing, with players spread out across spacious fields.
A coalition of youth baseball organizations across Minnesota have come together to propose guidelines for an eventual return to play, and the group is represented on a youth sports task force headed by Tarek Tomes, the state’s director of information technology and a longtime basketball coach.
The state is recommending that teams practice social distancing, promote health checks and enforce ‘stay-at-home when sick” expectations.
“I think what’s most important is to use some common sense,” said Coombe. “Baseball lends itself pretty well to staying apart.”
The guidelines allow for up to three groups of 10 to practice on baseball fields at any one time.
It’s not clear what will be next for Ely’s teams, and if the restrictions will ease enough to allow for postseason play or tournaments at the historic local ballpark.
Veterans Memorial Field was the site of last year’s Division II State Legion Tournament, and the facility usually hosts anywhere from 120-140 games including the spring and summer seasons.
That number usually includes five-to-seven tournaments per year, all bringing hundreds of visitors to the Ely area for weekend events.
“Those tournaments bring a lot of business to Ely, and their absence this year are another hit to our local economy,” said Coombe. “I’d like to think we would get to a point by July where we could have a couple of tournaments in Ely.”
• Coombe and high school coach Frank Ivancich will guide Ely’s Senior Babe Ruth Team, while Jim Wittrup and Aaron Donais are back as coaches for the VFW level. Max Gantt takes over as the IRB coach.