When Legion baseball was cancelled in the state of Massachusetts at the height of the coronavirus crisis, the managers from District 8 held out hope. Things would get better and if they had anything to say about it, there would be summer baseball on the North Shore and Merrimack Valley.
With Massachusetts hitting Phase II of re-opening, their faith has been rewarded. The newly formed Essex County Baseball League began practicing the weeks of June 8 and 15 and is planning to begin games with the dawn of Phase III tentatively scheduled for June 29.
The teams from Legion's District 8 -- Beverly/Salem, Peabody/Middleton, North Andover, Methuen, Andover, Saugus, Lynn, Haverhill and Lawrence -- are fielding teams at the Senior (high school juniors through college freshman) and Junior (under 17) levels with plans to play as many as 18 games in the month of July.
"The whole thing for us was if we can get the kids who missed their senior spring seasons any kind of summer season before they head off to college, we have to do it," said Mike Levine, Beverly/Salem's senior team manager.
Beverly/Salem began practicing this week when Cooney Field opened up. The Senior side had 16 players from both multiple high school programs and the practices have been broken into groups since no more than 10 can be on the diamond at once.
"They're all fired up. The kids can't wait to play," said Levine. "Watching them the last couple nights, they look really good. You can tell they've been working out and staying busy."
Beverly High standouts Tyler Petrosino, Brayden Clark, Matt Ploszay, Brennan Frost and Eric DePiero are among the potential standouts. Bevertly grad and Curry College player Conor Hanlon, St. John's Prep's Jack Cairns, Bishop Fenwick's Jake Miano, brothers William and Austin Foglietta from St. Mary's Lynn and Salem Academy's Ryan LeClare are also looking like solid contributors.
"There's a lot of Beverly High kids that missed out on what would've been a pretty magical season at the high school," said Levine. "They want to play and the guys from Salem are great too. We've got a lot of high level, college level ball players. I've never had this many pitchers."
As for coronavirus restrictions, the league plans to keep coaches masked and have players wearing masks while in the dugouts. They'll be using expanded benches such as bullpens and grass areas to encourage social distancing off the field, hand sanitizer and wipes will be available and there'll be no sharing of water bottles or equipment. Spitting, gum and seeds won't be allowed, either.
"It's the new normal of baseball," said Levine, noting that the state will release various restrictions at the end of the month just ahead of the planned start of Phase III on the 29th.
"No one knows exactly what the restrictions might be. We'll be on top of it, we'll follow everything the state and the CDC lay out and that goes for every city and town we play in. We'll follow all their rules."
Frank Morrissey is running the Beverly/Salem Junior squad, which is slated to play its first game on June 29 at home at Cooney. The Seniors are also set to open at home against North Andover at Cooney at 6 p.m., provided Phase III hits as expected.
"It's going to be a really fun month of July," Levine said. "We're all thrilled to be back on the field."