ROCK HILL, S.C. (Rock Hill Herald) - The 2020 American Legion baseball league announced last month that its seasons were canceled due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic — a discouraging revelation for those who saw the arrival of summer baseball as a slight return to normalcy.
So a new league has emerged.
And now that Gov. Henry McMaster has announced that youth sports can return around the state, summer baseball games in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Lancaster, the Columbia area, Horry County and other areas could be the first live sporting events after months of quarantining and social distancing.
The new league is called South Carolina American Summer League Baseball. According to a press release, the league “plans to play a full season,” using “all current American Legion Baseball rules and recruiting guidelines.”
“The SCASL has obtained liability and medical insurance for teams to purchase, has already approved bylaws and rules, and organized its Baseball Committee,” the release said.
Jeremy McCoy, who has been the head coach of American Legion’s Rock Hill baseball team for the past four summers, said he registered for the new league Wednesday night, after the governor’s announcement.
“It was kind of a coincidence in timing,” McCoy said. “I was planning on doing it all week, just to go ahead and get them in and let everybody know that we were planning on trying to do it.”
McCoy’s main mission is bringing a fun pastime to the players on the Rock Hill Post 34 team, as well as to the surrounding community, he said.
“I’m trying to do everything I can to make it work because of the way the spring season was taken away,” McCoy said. “A lot of the kids on my team, the senior team, are rising freshmen in college, or returning college freshmen, rising sophomores in college who play at various colleges.
“So their season obviously got taken away from them prematurely, so I’m trying to do everything I can to bring some normalcy to these young men’s lives.”
A PLACE TO PLAY SUMMER BASEBALL
According to McMaster’s executive order, youth sports can begin practice May 30, and games can begin no sooner than June 15, all with health restrictions and social distancing guidelines in place for practices, warm-ups and games.
Teams still have a few logistical hurdles, however.
For example, teams that normally rent and play on high school fields for the American Legion season must get separate approval from their school districts to use the facilities.
McCoy said as of right now, the Rock Hill School District doesn’t plan on renting out any of their facilities this summer.
McCoy said he’s considering all options when it comes to finding places to play. For instance, Lancaster’s American Legion baseball teams, Lancaster Post 31, play home games at Harvey Eggleton Field, named in memory of a longtime P-31 athletic officer and located adjacent to the Lancaster County fairgrounds.
Lancaster’s senior team registered earlier this week, per the SCASL’s official twitter.
“There may be a situation where I can talk to them and see if we can make some dates work to use their fields,” McCoy said. “If we don’t have a home field, it’s going to be very hard to do. Yes, the idea has been tossed up that we could just play all away games. And yes, in theory that’s great, until you’re traveling three nights a week for six weeks.
“With the ages they’re at, most of the players have summer jobs and stuff like that, and they schedule their jobs around baseball. So being able to get off work even earlier to travel three nights a week is tough.”
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS FOR AMERICAN LEGION TEAMS
American Legion is the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization focused on “strengthening the nation one community at a time,” per its mission statement on its website. One of the not-for-profit organization’s most successful programs is its baseball league.
Each post of American Legion thus helps fund each baseball team. For some teams, like Rock Hill Post 34, the American Legion financial backing is substantial.
“We don’t charge our kids a dime,” McCoy said. “We don’t charge them anything. It’s taken care of, from umpires, to the fields, to the uniforms, to postgame meals, to travel. So that’s another obstacle (we’ll face).”
Per the new, independent league’s schedule enclosed in its press release, the planned dates align with Gov. McMaster’s announced timeline to reopen youth sports. SCASL registration closes May 31; leagues and schedules are announced June 8; and the season begins June 29.
According to the SCASL’s twitter, more than 15 baseball programs around the state, from Rock Hill to Florence to Camden, have signed up for the new league.