Sports

Prep softball, baseball more than games

If Iowa kids play without hitches, it will be a lift for everyone

The Pekin High School baseball team earned the school's first  trip to the Class 1A state tournament in Des Moines at Principal Park last season. The Panthers get a chance for a return trip after the governor allowed high schools to start their seasons June 15. Practice begins today.
The Pekin High School baseball team earned the school's first trip to the Class 1A state tournament in Des Moines at Principal Park last season. The Panthers get a chance for a return trip after the governor allowed high schools to start their seasons June 15. Practice begins today.

Many Americans who care about sports will be keeping an eye on Iowa high school athletics in the next several weeks.

Practices for prep softball and baseball teams in the state begin Monday. On June 15, a hurry-up of a season starts for both sports.

Iowa is the only state with high school baseball and softball in the summer. That had been a mere oddity. Now, however, the state goes from being a spoon in a drawer-full of forks to being the only state that will get its schools’ teams on the diamonds this year.

The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and Iowa High School Athletic Association have about as many guidelines for playing and practicing in this COVID-19 time as there are rules for the two sports themselves. Which is as it should be, because there is no such thing as being too cautious or overprepared despite what the shoulder-shruggers think.

While the wait for the major sports’ leagues to start or resume continues, high school kids and their coaches in Iowa will try to hold team sports on a smaller scale.

Or is it really something bigger than the NBA or MLB? We’re talking about a lot of teams, a lot of kids, and an amount of risk never before identified with sports in our state and nation.

It’s going to be unusual, to put it mildly. Some of it will be the trivial kind of strange, like not having concession stands open or coaches staying six feet from umpires whenever they feel inclined to initiate a discussion.

Some of it will be weird in a most-serious manner. The virtually constant sanitization of equipment and the participants themselves needs to become routine in a hurry. You can’t legislate sweating out of sports, but maybe cutting down on spitting would be a noble goal of the 21st Century ballplayer.

If things go as well with the two sports in Iowa as could be reasonably hoped, hope itself will increase from a sports perspective. If the softball and baseball seasons are played to completion without interruptions and with a scarcity of participants getting ill, it would have to be good for the overall psyche of Iowa high schools.

Maybe getting back together in school would seem more manageable and less nerve-racking. Maybe high school teams again sharing experiences would lift a lot of spirits of kids and adults alike. Maybe it would make moving into the fall sports seasons and into the collision sport of football somehow feel like an easier transition.

This is risky business. To just what degree, we’ll soon see. If these summer sports seasons have starts and stops, the experience will be less than great. If people get sick as a direct result of participating, this will feel like a big mistake and a backward step.

Adults have decided that there will be games. So now the responsibility shifts to the kids. They have to follow the new many safety protocols of their sports. They have to take care of each other, and everyone else in their spheres.

Playing sports is for the young and the fit, those who often feel bulletproof on and off the field of play. They must knock some of that bravado off their shoulders and play ball, rules-wise.

We need some things to start going well in this life right now. We need this to go well. These may ultimately be small things, but we need things like hearing ballplayers chattering, their friends and families cheering and offering support. Ballpark lights burning in the distance will be a beautiful sight for eyes that have gotten way too sore the last three months.

This isn’t some “Field of Dreams” make-believe. This isn’t heaven. It’s Iowa. It’s people trying to do something they love, doing it as a community, and be safe doing it. That alone would be victory.