Baseball is back in Kenosha.
It may not be quite what everyone is used to, and it may be relegated to just youngsters playing for now, but it’s back.
And with it comes a renewed sense of optimism.
On Monday evening, all four diamonds at the Dr. James L. Santarelli Sports Complex, 3800 42nd St., were busy with the sights and sounds of baseball, as the Little Leaguers of Kenosha opened their 2020 season.
Despite a myriad of social distancing guidelines in place, everyone seemed thrilled to begin a season that normally starts during the third week of April but was delayed until now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s awesome,” said Tom Santarelli, son of Little Leaguers of Kenosha Commissioner Dr. Jim Santarelli and a coach for the team Madrigrano, Aiello & Santarelli.
“The parents are real understanding, and the kids are, too, believe it or not. The comments we always get from all the parents, whether it’s practice or games, (are), ‘We’re just happy the kids get to play baseball.’ I think all of us coaches and parents feel the same way.”
Madrigrano, Aiello & Santarelli is the defending 11/12-year-old champions and on Monday faced off against Cicchini Asphalt on the new southwest diamond, which features artificial turf and high fences.
The players were eager to see each other, though Cicchini Asphalt coach Mike Corcoran said the coaching staffs had to make sure players were social distancing.
“The kids haven’t seen each other in three, four months, so the big challenge is, ‘Yes, these are your friends. You’re excited to see them, but you’ve still got to stay away from each other. You’ve still got to keep some distance,’” said Corcoran, who also coaches Tremper High’s freshman baseball team and one of its junior varsity teams.
“It’s just kind of re-programming. They show up today at the ballpark, and they all wanted to go in the dugout. I haven’t even unlocked the dugout yet. We’re getting the rust off for the baseball part, but now we’re also (adding) that extra layer of the social distancing guidelines that we’ve all got to kind of learn and get used to as it becomes our new norm.”
Started planning with order lifted
Tom Santarelli said Little Leaguers of Kenosha really began moving to start its season when Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order was lifted on May 13. The organization worked with Kenosha Director of Public Works Shelly Billingsley to enact safety guidelines for players, coaches and fans.
“Right after (safer at home) was lifted, there (were) no restrictions necessarily,” Santarelli said. “We leased this property from the city, so we worked directly with the city, talking to them about ways in which we could start our season.
“That’s how we were able to open it up, because we just worked with the city to sort of follow whatever guidelines they wanted to put in place.”
The league came up with a list of parameters and guidelines, which can be seen at littleleaguersofkenosha.com and in the info box with this story. On June 3, Billingsley sent a letter to the league stating, in part, “City staff has reviewed your operational plan and find that it is in compliance with the rules set for baseball/softball.”
Additionally, the end date of the league was moved from the first or second week of July to the first or second week of August to make up for the late start.
No apparent issues
On Monday, fans, players and coaches all appeared to be social distancing and the games went off with no apparent issues.
Michelle Hoffman, whose son Zachary plays for Cicchini Asphalt, said she felt safe by following the guidelines.
“Of course there’s some concern, but I figured with the precautions they’re trying to take and being outside that the risk was relatively low,” Hoffman said.
In this time where nothing seems normal anymore, the sight of kids playing baseball provided some much-needed relief, no matter how they have to play.
“I think it’s just really fortunate that Little League was able to put together a plan that the city was OK with that allowed us to just get outside and get some fresh air while we can,” Corcoran said. “... We’re going to just take advantage of being out here together and playing while we can.”
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