Leomin­ster squad ad­justs to rules of the pan­demic

Leomin­ster base­ball team ad­justs to pan­demic guide­lines

Sentinel & Enterprise - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Mal­lard nmal­lard@sen­tinelanden­ter­prise.com

At its roots, this sum­mer is no dif­fer­ent for the team ac­cus­tomed to play­ing Amer­i­can Le­gion ball in Leomin­ster: it’s base­ball.

Throw the ball. Hit the ball. Catch the ball. Seven in­nings at Pin Can­navino Field.

From there, the sim­i­lar­i­ties end for the team nor­mally known as Post 151.

For starters, there’s no Amer­i­can Le­gion af­fil­i­a­tion this sum­mer, as the pro­gram was shut down na­tion­ally due to the novel coron­avirus out­break. The most sim­ple of the changes this year is the league and name: Leomin­ster 151 is play­ing its 2020 cam­paign in the Worces­ter County Base­ball League.

“Dif­fer­ent in name, but it’s the same phi­los­o­phy,” long­time Leomin­ster man­ager Jeff Dedeian said Mon­day night. “It’s the same thought process. We’re just try­ing to get guys on a field to play base­ball. For a lot of these guys, they haven’t done any­thing in­volv­ing base­ball in a while.”

Per­haps the big­gest change for play­ers in the WCBL is the re­lo­ca­tion of the home plate um­pire to be­hind the mound, calling balls and strikes from the same van­tage point of the pitcher.

With dim­ming light at times Mon­day, sub­tle shifts and fram­ing jobs from catch­ers led to de­layed strike calls. In fact, Leomin­ster’s 3- 0 loss to Shrews­bury ended with the ty­ing run at the plate on a dis­puted check swing strike three call made from the cen­ter of the di­a­mond, as with run­ners on, both um­pires were be­hind the pitcher’s mound.

“It’s a lot dif­fer­ent and it’s a fac­tor at times, like tonight when you have a game end on a check swing,” Dedeian said. “It’s tough to see out there some­times. But it’s what we’ve been of­fered to get the kids out there play­ing and in the long run, that’s all that

mat­ters.”

The sea­son is an abridged ver­sion of the nor­mal Amer­i­can Le­gion one, though most of the teams from Zone 4 are par­tic­i­pat­ing. With the vast ma­jor­ity of the league’s play­ers hav­ing not faced live pitch­ing or fielded balls in game sit­u­a­tions since last year with the can­cel­la­tion of the spring sea­son, rust has been ev­i­dent at times.

The lack of a sea­son to show­case skills in the spring has also led to ex­panded ros­ters in the WCBL, with Dedeian car­ry­ing in the neigh­bor­hood of 24 play­ers, an in­crease of about 33% over a nor­mal Amer­i­can Le­gion sea­son.

“It’s good and bad be­cause we’re try­ing to get guys play­ing time and it’s tough fig­ur­ing out how to do that,” the skip­per ad­mit­ted. “We’re try­ing to be fair to all the guys who de­serve play­ing time and want to get looks. We’re work­ing it out.

“These guys have been great so far, stick­ing to­gether and tak

ing ad­van­tage of the time when they get their chances.”

By their na­ture, play­ers have cel­e­brated big plays early this sea­son in their usual fash­ion, but have be­gun to catch them­selves in do­ing so, Dedeian says. Many Leomin­ster 151 play­ers wear neck gaiters, masks that can be pulled down when dis­tance can be kept from oth­ers and pulled up when needed.

Dur­ing Mon­day’s game, high fives were limited, as were nor­mal base­ball ac­tiv­i­ties like spit­ting.

“Some guys have (neck gaiters) on. We’re try­ing to stay so­cially dis­tanced, but by the third innning, you look over and guys are closer to­gether. They catch them­selves,” Dedeian said. And when we tell them to do some­thing, they lis­ten.

“We’re just do­ing what­ever it takes to do to be able to have a sea­son.”

Leomin­ster’s sea­son con­tin­ues Thurs­day, host­ing Grafton Hill, but play­ing as the road team at 6 p.m.

NICK MAL­LARD / SEN­TINEL & EN­TER­PRISE

Leomin­ster's Nick Ouel­lette de­liv­ers a pitch to Shrews­bury's Brett Sav­age dur­ing Mon­day's game as the home plate um­pire looks on from be­hind Ouel­lette.

NICK MAL­LARD / SEN­TINEL & EN­TER­PRISE

Leomin­ster's Dy­lan Sousa waits for a pitch in front of Shrews­bury's Chris­tian Si­cil­iano with no um­pire at home plate dur­ing Mon­day's game.

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