After a year of being benched because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wildcat Baseball League is returning this summer to play at 10 Allen County sites. Registration starts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and continues May 29 and June 1 to accommodate those who may miss the second sign-up date because of the Memorial Day holiday.
The 10 sites are Summit Middle School, Arlington Elementary School, Blackhawk Middle School, Foster Park, Hamilton Park, Leo Jr./Sr. High School, Havenhurst Park in New Haven, Bob Arnold Northside Park, St. Joe Baseball Complex and Wallen Baseball Complex.
The pandemic cost approximately 1,500 players their spots on the field last summer, the first time the program has been canceled since its inception in 1961. Players range in age from 8 to 15, and more than 250,000 have participated over 60 seasons.
After being founded by Central Soya's Dale McMillen in 1961, the league has always been sponsored by The McMillen Foundation. Registration is free, but players are asked to donate $10 for the league's traditional ballcap and T-shirt.
“We're planning on a normal season, whatever that can be,” Wildcat President Bill Derbyshire said. “We've got some protocols that we hope will be effective. Several parents have called the office, and I've told them that 'normal' is in quotation marks.”
The biggest change will be the elimination of Mr. Mac Day, which annually honors the league's founder and has taken place in recent years at Kreager Park. It was originally scheduled for July 9.
“With 600 to 1,200 people at Kreager Park, we just didn't want to put them at risk,” Derbyshire said. “We have no control over who shows up. We know all of our Wildcatters won't have it because they will have been playing with us all summer, but as far as who brings them and all of those unknowns, we're just not going to have Mr. Mac Day and risk that safety. How do we do a lunch line? How do you social distance for the awards ceremony and the all-star games?”
However, Derbyshire said each site will be playing that day, and it's up to the site directors if they want to host a special event or regular games.
Derbyshire said the pandemic has forced major changes to the 55-person coaching staff, and more coaches are needed for the upcoming season. The first two days of the season, June 3 and 4 will be for evaluation of players, and on June 4 players can participate in practice games before the regular schedule begins June 7.
There will also be extra training for the staff in the afternoon June 2. The plan was to implement the training last summer before the league was canceled. Equipment that was purchased for last season will also be used this summer.