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Field of dreams: Volunteers keep baseball going in this community after COVID-19 cancels league play

Is this sandlot-style baseball in its most pure form?

Photo by Keith Dunlap
Photo by Keith Dunlap (GMG)

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Even Smalls, Squints, Benny and Ham would be envious of this sandlot.

The above characters in the famous baseball movie “The Sandlot” might have entertained millions in their hit 1993 film, but a group of baseball coaches and volunteers have done something even greater in their community: they formed a sandlot that fills a much-needed void for kids -- and it hasn’t cost parents a penny.

Back in the spring, when some parents expressed concerns over playing organized baseball during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oxford Recreational Baseball Association in Oxford, Michigan, had to pull the plug on the season and the registration fees that usually come with it.

But even though the money went away, the organization decided that baseball shouldn’t.

Photo by Keith Dunlap
Photo by Keith Dunlap (GMG)

Instead of a league with organized games, ORBA decided to send an invite to community members to play pickup baseball games throughout the summer.

Essentially, parents and kids who are interested have shown up to a field with gloves and bats, coaches and parent volunteers divide the group into random teams, and games that last roughly an hour begin.

It’s sandlot baseball in its truest form.

“We just go out and organize something,” said Frank Bachner, president of ORBA. “It works. The kids have fun, they learn something and at least they are playing.”

There have been some concerns with following safety protocols, but for the most part, parents and kids have followed guidelines such as social distancing, which is a little easier with baseball than with other sports.

“Participation among younger-aged kids has been as much as 50 kids a week that will just show up,” Bachner said.

Games have been held Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays each week, with kids being divided into age groups nightly.

Photo by Keith Dunlap
Photo by Keith Dunlap (GMG)

For example, 7- and 8-year-olds play Mondays, while younger kids who participate in T-ball come Tuesdays.

Wednesdays and Fridays are for older children.

“I am still concerned about the liability of it,” said Jason Prais, one of the volunteer coaches and an organization board member. “But at the same time, kids should be out playing and having fun. I think everyone has been understanding of that. Just show up if you like, and if you don’t like it, don’t come.”

Bachner said the parents in attendance have been as supportive as possible.

“There’s been no drama,” he said, adding that the local parks and recreation department has been helpful with making fields available, as well. “The parents come and separate themselves and it’s been a good time.”

The organization obviously hopes next summer will mean a full return to normalcy.

But for now, the volunteers and coaches are happy to at least provide a critical outlet for kids to get out of the house, get some exercise and enjoy some social interaction with others their age.

“We’ve had so many parents happy that their kids have had some sense of normalcy during all this craziness,” Bachner said. “The kids love it.”

Photo by Keith Dunlap
Photo by Keith Dunlap (GMG)

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