By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications
June 14th marked the opening of the Houston Hardball League 2020 season. 24 teams make up the four-division league, though only two divisions have the go ahead. Joe Banasik, league president since 1997, explains.
“Our competitive Open division and our 55-over division play on more independent facilities on Sundays while our 30+ and 40+ divisions play mid-week on Houston city fields. The middle divisions haven’t played yet because the city of Houston is full to the brim with youth leagues so there is nowhere to play. That will hopefully open up in early July but for now we are on hold for half of our league. We’ll get there.”
The Houston league has been around since 1992, while Joe began playing in 1994 and is now the player/manager in his 30-over division Marauders and also plays on the MSBL World Series veteran Skeeters.
“We are able to send five or six teams every year to Arizona for the World Series. It is the highlight of our year. This year we are cancelling our Fall season to allow for an extended spring season that will take us into early October after the playoffs. Then the teams can transition right into a World Series mindset without much of a gap in playing.”
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected any league protocol?
“We follow the CDC and City of Houston guidelines for social distancing and precautions, such as wearing a mask if you want, don’t play if you have a fever or are sick, stay some distance apart and keep things disinfected. But when it comes right down to it, they are encouraged to self-regulate.
They are all adults and know right from wrong. We don’t have the time to watch them full time. We have had league meetings about what is expected of them. The umpires also have the freedom to stand where they wish. If they want to stand behind the mound then they can.”
How have the new guidelines and procedures been embraced by your members?
“There were a few players who decided not to play because of family members with existing health concerns or maybe they were a little uncomfortable being out but all teams came back and we didn’t lose any. In fact, we should have had 25 total, but one team pulled out because their sponsor had some income concerns and couldn’t afford to spend the money for the team. It had nothing to do with the virus directly but certainly a casualty of the economic impact.”
Joe continues to work the phones to find venues for his two divisions waiting to hit the dirt once again. “We are looking in surrounding areas of Houston to find a field here and there,” summarized Joe. “Guys would be happy to drive an hour to play rather than not do anything. But it is amazing how the kids have all of the fields wrapped up. I’m happy for them but it really puts us in a bind, but we’ll eventually get it done. We will be at 100% participation very soon.”
Final thoughts or recommendations to other league presidents?
“Be patient. Don’t rush to get something done. All of this is out of our control so do what you can, know you’ve done your best, and let it go. Even though it is a tough time and you are tempted to settle on something, don’t be quick to provide an inferior product. Stay the course. It will be favorably looked upon in the months and years ahead.”