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More Rhyme than Reason in nation’s first restart of prep sports

By John Burbridge

Every age has its share of great poets. It’s just the heyday for great baseball poetry was during the dead-ball era.

Maybe it’s not just the ball as the lyrical resonance of “the crack of the bat” can be appropriately replaced in modern verse with “the dull clink of the BBCOR”.

But contemporary poets everywhere are about to have their muse molded like a broken-in new glove with the belated openings of the baseball and softball seasons.

There may be “No joy in Mudville” as Ernest Lawrence Thayer penned at the end of his poem Casey at the Bat, but there is due to be joy in Riceville … and in New Hampton … and especially in Charles City.

After the Iowa governor gave the okay to resume school activities starting in June, the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union jointly announced restart dates of June 1 for baseball and softball practices, and June 15 for baseball and softball games contingent on honoring the guidelines set by the Iowa Department of Education in efforts to continue prevention of coronavirus exposure and transmission.

Both starting dates may be nixed “if circumstance dictates change”, but it’s likely the “clink of the BBCOR” will precede the “crack of the bat” with Major League Baseball’s tentative opener set for the Fourth of July weekend at the earliest. (Yet don’t hold your breath MLB fans … the league and players are still haggling about, among other things, shortened-season pay scales).

Thus, the earlier starts of the Iowa high school baseball and softball seasons may steal a little of the epochal thunder.

Two-Thousand-and-Twenty was already set to be a historic year for Charles City’s athletic program with the maiden season of its new sports complex. Within the context of the country’s gradual reopening, Comet first pitches will echo with more poetic “pop!” when they finally impact catchers’ gloves.

And unlike for several pro sports that have restarted as of late, fans will be allowed to attend these Iowa high school games. Of course, there will be restrictions. The IDE encourages fans to bring their own chairs, avoid congregating in the bleachers, or stand (alone if possible).

Such adjustments are expected during this new normal, but they may not have much of an adverse effect on attendance — even with no concessions allowed. It’s quite possible that Iowa baseball and softball games will have an increase of fans this summer when factoring in people who might be willing to cross state lines — or even time zones — just to witness games after sequestered months inundated with “classic” replays of the 1989 World Series featuring future Hall of Shamers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

Sport fans who crave live action have suffered enough this year. But let’s not forget the athletes, in particular senior — be it high school or college — student-athletes. It was heartbreaking that so many pending graduates had their final seasons torn asunder by the pandemic. With Iowa being the only state in the union to have summer sports let alone the first to send prep players back onto the field, at least some high school senior athletes will get to represent their schools while in uniform one last time.

If you find this reason to celebrate, please save some joy for the sport writers who can only remain “essential” if there are sports to be covered.

Though I could only be happy for the athletes I cover, the fans who support them and myself who is also getting tired of the “classics”, I cannot shake nagging reservations about Iowa’s bold step forward during this still ongoing crisis.

Like the antigens, stabilizers, adjuvants, antibiotics and preservatives within a possible vaccine, Iowa’s high school baseball and softball diamonds are going to be under a worldwide microscope. How well things pan out this summer will likely serve as a global model of what to do and/or what not to do.

There are plenty of bullet points in the IDE guidelines including post signage prominently indicating no one should attend or participate in games if they currently have symptoms or have been in contact with anyone with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis in the last 14 days; the checking of coaches’ and players’ temperatures before practice and games; immediate disclosure to public health authorities if a positive case of COVID-19 is reported within the vicinity of the team; and — a similar guideline is being challenged by several MLB players — no spitting of sunflower seeds.

Not to aggravate what has become a sore political subject, but the guidelines do not require testing for the high school athletes and coaches, or even suggest it.

Even with “State at Home’’ advisories still in place, Iowa high school baseball and softball teams are scheduled to travel substantial distances across the state — a state where in some areas is still experiencing an acceleration of confirmed cases and deaths just as this grand reopening is taking place.

Now that we’re approaching the “ride it out like a cowboy” phase with future lockdowns not likely to recur during the remainder of this election year no matter what the turn of events, it’s especially prudent to be more cautious than cavalier in our social interactions.

I hope my bad feelings about going on with the 2020 Iowa baseball and softball seasons prove to be wrong. If they are, I’ll admit to them and maybe set a precedent during this pandemic.