By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
The Chicago North MSBL started way back in 1988 and remains one of the gleaming arrows in the MSBL quiver. Though down about 20% in 2020 teams because of the pandemic, long-time league president Max Reising has maintained a strong 45 teams in six age divisions from 24+ through 65+ as they began play on June 11th. Max took over in 2003 following a host of presidents who mirrored the steps of original league president Mike Pinto, who is now the head coach for the Independent Marion Miners in the Frontier League.
“The funny thing is that a lot of players who had very real concerns about playing have been coming out and watching and they have seen it is going smoothly and that we have safety under control and they would now like to play,” explained Reising. “Our numbers will be growing before the year is over but we will definitely be back full force in 2021. We hope to be back to 85% or 90% by season’s end.”
Max stated that they will be able to still wrap up around mid-September with the regular number of games with playoffs completed by October 15th and then it’s off to the MSBL World Series in Arizona.
“It has been very chaotic to say the least. We went from having our schedule ready to go for our April opening and then had to reschedule. Then June came along and we were the beneficiaries of a private complex. We play 320 games per season at this private field in Bensenville that also has a couple of hockey rinks. Without these fields early on we’d be lost. We have now moved on to our normal fields except for one, and that one is coming aboard on July 14th.”
The real story here, however, are the creative rules implemented by the league to stay in compliance with state regulations while ensuring the safety of all players.
“One rule that was designed for safety and social distancing is that all plays are force outs. For example, pitchers continue to throw from a stretch while holding someone on but the first baseman isn’t holding the runner. We drew a chalk line ten feet from first and the runner can’t go past it. He can steal if he wishes but only after the pitcher’s first move to the plate. Then, if the throw from the catcher reaches second base before the runner, and the infielder catches the ball and touches the base, you’re out. Sliding is still recommended so that you don’t risk running over the bag and getting tagged out. Normal rules apply to runners on second and third.”
Those rules were somewhat experimental early on and may change as the season progresses.
“Some of our younger divisions may wish to do away with that rule but that is what was in effect at the start of the season. As of July 1st the 24’s, 34’s and 44’s have reverted to normal baseball rules, while the 52’s will probably return to regular rules around July 15th and the 60’s by the end of the month. The 65’s rules are similar to the Covid rules spelled out for us.”
Many of the nationwide preventative measures are also in effect in Chicago North. For example, all umpires are required to wear masks and players have to wear a mask when off the field as well as for any meetings on mound when managers come out. They physically placed an ‘X’ every six feet in the dugout for social distancing and added a ten-foot bench on the sidelines for three to four players and then placed tape on one section of the grandstand for players. They can also bring their own chairs if they want.
“It’s really up to them and how they approach their safety. We are all grown-ups and need to take this seriously. I don’t have time to be everywhere to monitor everything and we can’t place any more of a burden on our umpires. It’s up to our players to adhere to the rules of the state and the league.”
Along with the usual ‘no handshakes or fist bumps’ rule, Max asked that all players come dressed for the game and everyone gets out of the dugout quickly after their game so that it can be sprayed in time for the next game. But there is one special feature that Max is most proud of.
“We created an electronic app for all managers to send to the other manager and to me showing the complete roster, register names of who showed up, batting order, positions, numbers and even payment details showing who has paid. We created an app specially for each team so I can trace any illnesses and who may have been infected. This app even lists who has a courtesy runner. The other manager has it right in front of him in the dugout to fill out and I have a record for my files for years to come. It’s fantastic. It is also contact tracing at its best. (Sample below)
Another benefit is that each umpire has an app and they get paid directly into their account. There are no more cash payment considerations at the game, which can only cause problems. We’re very proud of our new technology.”