Hey ump. What are you doing out on the playing field?

Umpires like this one watching Sarnia Braves slugger Julian Service hit a home run will move to the infield under new league guidelines announced last week. Photo courtesy, Hayley Trigatti

Troy Shantz

The game of baseball will look different when the Sarnia Braves take to the field again, possibly in a matter of weeks.

Baseball Ontario released extensive guidelines last week that explain how teams should play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They include rules for tagging runners on base, sanitizing equipment, and repositioning the umpire behind the pitcher’s mound to call balls and strikes.

“That would kind of get three people out of the home plate area,” said Braves manager James Grant. “Baseball is a sport that has distance anyway. There’s ways to do it, for sure.”

Sarnia’s ‘AAA’ baseball club was permitted to hold 10-player practices last week after Sarnia-Lambton entered Stage 2 of Ontario’s re-opening plan, said Grant.

However, Sarnia’s parks and sports fields are closed until at least July 3.

“The government says you can train, it’s just a matter of whether municipalities have parks open,” he said. “Once they open those parks again I assume we’re going to be able to practice.”

But practices are practices. No game simulations or scrimmages allowed.

The Braves play in the Southwestern Baseball league with teams from Huron and Middlesex Counties. It’s one of four Ontario divisions, and the only one with all its teams advanced to Stage 2. Divisions in Windsor-Essex and the GTA still aren’t allowed to take the field.

Grant believes league baseball will resume this year but with a heavily modified schedule and limited travel.

“We’ve missed quite a bit (of the season). I could see our league just pushing it later. There are options there for us to get some games in, for sure.”

Umpires will have new rules to enforce, the league said.

Close plays at a base will require the defender to immediately clear the area so the umpire can make the call.

And players won’t be popping bubble gum or spitting sunflower seeds, as both are banned for now.

Coaches and players are encouraged to find ways to maintain physical distancing, the league said, such as when fielders converge on a pop fly.

If and when the season gets underway Grant doubts spectators will immediately be allowed to watch. Plans are being made to videotape games for playback on Facebook.

“We obviously have a good team… so it’s still going to be good baseball whether people are there or not,” he said.

The Braves finished first in the Southwestern Baseball League last year with a 15-4 record. They represented Ontario at the national finals and were eliminated by Manitoba.