The Laramie Rangers have reached first base in a quest to play baseball this summer.
The Laramie American Legion Post 14 Baseball Board comprised of seven members – three from the Legion Post and four from the community – voted Wednesday night to start the process of fielding one team at the Class AA varsity level in the midst of ongoing national, state and local restrictions to combat the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Younger Laramie teams at the B and C levels will not play this year.
“I’m not sure what the final vote count was, but it was a clear vote in support (of playing a season),” said Aaron Lozano, who enters his second season as manager of the Rangers. “It was a hard vote for a lot of folks with a lot to deal with because of the responsibility of this all – I don’t envy that at all.”
Lozano said he has mixed feelings of being happy for the opportunity to play a season and disappointed it will not be for all players.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’m excited for our seniors and varsity players to get an opportunity to play. But I’m definitely going to have to take a look at things I can do for your younger players who will be missing out on that opportunity. I will probably have some clinics for them maybe in the late summer depending on what the board is comfortable with or for sure in the fall.”
Lozano said some of the feedback board Vice President Baend Buus received from the community before Wednesday was “was mostly supportive of playing some sort of a season and most people were in favor. Some did have reservations about travel and urged the board to monitor the situation, and if things did start getting worse to consider taking action.”
The decision was the tail end of a ripple effect, starting with announcements from the national level, then at the state level and ultimately at the local level.
The American Legion baseball national governing body announced April 7 the cancellation of all eight postseason regional tournaments and the American Legion World Series in Shelby, North Carolina. But it left open the opportunity for individual states to determine their own options of playing the season. On Monday, it “shut down all sponsorship and national involvement in baseball for the 2020 season,” according to the national Legion website.
The Wyoming American Legion Baseball organization decided to go forward with the possibility of a season and released a detailed plan May 2 for “on-field operations for practices” that were approved to begin on May 4 for teams in the state. Games could also begin as early as today.
Each Legion Post made its own determination to field teams in accordance to overall statewide directives set by Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Department of Health and their respective county’s health guidelines and recommendations. Cheyenne Post 6 started practicing last week.
Laramie Post 14 decided it would be best to field one varsity team with a maximum roster of 18 players.
“The board, and I would like to echo again I didn’t envy the position they were in, but some of the reasons that factored into the decision were financial reasons, travel aspects and caring deeply about the health and safety of the players,” Lozano said. “What is the most responsible thing they can do to represent Post 14 and keep people safe by minimizing the risk of exposure?”
According to the current guidelines set by state Legion officials, there are 15 strict orders for practice procedures and restrictions that must be followed for all teams.
Some of those include: no more than nine people, including coaches, can be on any one field at a time with different entrances and exits for groups; adjacent fields or batting cages must have separate entrances and exits; players have to stay more than 6 feet apart from each other; no team water jugs and sunflower seeds; dugouts, locker rooms and indoor facilities stay closed; restrooms cleaned after each nine-group practice; no sharing of protective equipment, including batting helmets; and all equipment, including baseballs, sanitized before and after each practice.
“All of the restrictions come from our state chairman Cody Beers and we agreed to all of those,” Lozano said. “We will also be adding face coverings and be taking temperatures before every practice.”
There is also a detailed list of nine recommendations for games. Some of the current game restrictions are: no fans or spectators with the bleachers or stands closed; no concession except for players; local media will be allowed; live streaming games will be encouraged; and no team meetings between innings or in dugouts.
“If the group-size restriction is raised to 50 on June 1, it would still be hard to have fans,” Lozano said. “If I have a full 18-man roster and an assistant coach, that puts 20 people there. Then with the other team being the same way with another 20, and also throw in the umpires for a total of 42.”
Lozano said three other main issues that needed to be addressed during Wednesday’s approval vote were insurance, practice fields/Cowboy Field and traveling.
When the national organization dissolved it’s relationships with the states for this summer, the insurance that was already purchased was canceled and refunded. The Laramie board then used information shared by other Legion boards in the state to address that issue.
“We had a good idea of what the insurance was going to cost based on other programs sharing that information and process,” Lozano said. “That is where we are at today – the board is doing some research on what kind of insurance they want to purchase. We are all using the same firm as we used before, but they are individual policies instead of a large policy.”
Lozano is also working closely with local officials on a daily basis going forward.
“The one thing I like about being the coach here is that (City of Laramie Parks Crew Leader) Mike Malloy, who runs Cowboy Field, is really great to work with,” Lozano said. “I know I can call Mike and get all the latest information from him.
“As an organization, we have also been in contact with (Albany County Health Officer) Dr. Jean Allais and she is aware of all the precautions we will be taking, as well.”
If that wasn’t enough on his plate already, Lozano is also in the process of putting together a roster, hoping to begin practicing on Monday and working on another schedule from scratch. The Rangers will not be hosting or traveling to any tournaments, which made up a bulk of the regular-season schedule.
“The original schedule we had is scrapped with maybe about 20% of it still in place as a possibility and within that 20% has to be moved or canceled,” Lozano said.
Laramie will not be hosting the AA state tournament this year as originally scheduled. It will be hosted by Rock Springs’ Archie Hay Post 25 in August. Laramie will host in 2021.
“Another hurdle for me is having a fairly large coaching staff for three teams now down to one – it’s working with the coaches to make sure they can still stay involved to whatever extent they want to and can do and making sure they are in the loop with the new developments,” Lozano said.
There are still a lot of unknowns yet to be resolved, and each day will be a major change in the way of doing things. But at least there’s one thing that is now known – there will be baseball in Laramie.