Baseball and summer have been synonymous for nearly 150 years. In the New Britain area, professional baseball has been a part of local summers for three decades, though this year was to be the first one without pro ball since the New Britain Red Sox arrived. Still, with the New Britain Bees heading to the Futures League, residents of the Hardware City were able to take solace in the fact that some form of baseball would still be a short walk or drive away.
But now, the local area could be without baseball entirely during the summer of 2020, and that’s a sad reality to consider.
Of course, the safety of the players, coaches and the community comes first. The impact of the coronavirus has been unprecedented, and each sports cancellation seems to be met with a disappointed sense of understanding. It’s the right move to postpone or cancel sporting events, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
Baseball in New Britain hasn’t officially been called off for the summer, at least not yet. Last week, the Futures League announced it would be delaying the start to its 2020 campaign, though there was no date given to circle on the calendar when the words “Play ball!” would echo through New Britain Stadium.
“As soon as we have clarity on guidelines and procedures for playing baseball, we will look to adapt and begin,” Futures League commissioner Joe Paolucci said in last week’s press release announcing the delay of the season. “While all scenarios and contingencies are under consideration, we remain hopeful.”
This was supposed to be the beginning of a new era in New Britain, where the Bees were scheduled to host the Futures League All-Star Game, an event that brings summer to mind at just the sound of the name. That is now in jeopardy, and the optimism seems to dwindle with each passing day and cancellation, especially after Friday night’s news, when the New England Collegiate Baseball League announced it was canceling the 2020 season entirely. The Bristol Blues, who were also supposed to be celebrating a new beginning after moving up to the NECBL this past offseason, will now have to wait to take the field until 2020, and the lights will be out at Muzzy Field.
“We understand that this decision will result in hardship and disappointment to our student-athletes who have already lost their college spring baseball season,” Friday’s press release read. “For this reason, it breaks our hearts and runs counter to our competitive instincts and spirit. However, our first priority and obligation must always be the health and well-being of our players and our community.”
Down the street from Muzzy Field, Breen Field was supposed to be the hub for baseball in August, with the annual Little League World Series East Region Tournament bringing a buzz to the city of Bristol. That event, and the Little League World Series as a whole, was canceled last week. The pure emotions of youth baseball on such a stage are one of the local highlights of summer, but that too has now been wiped off the sports calendar as a result of COVID-19, in another devastating but understandable decision.
“This is a heartbreaking decision for everyone at Little League International,” Little League president Stephen D. Keener said in an announcement last week. “But more so for those millions of Little Leaguers who have dreamt of one day playing in one of our seven World Series events.”
Still clinging to life, at least for now, is American Legion baseball. While all national tournaments have been canceled, the regular season has not been called off, though time for a season will likely continue to shrivel while other sports remain canceled. Connecticut legion baseball has already put Aug. 9 as a strict deadline for where it will conclude its season no matter what, and with the season normally starting on June 8, a potential delay or complete cancellation seems like a possibility. If the league isn’t able to start the season by July 6, the season will be moved to the fall, and yet another piece of local summer baseball will evaporate.
Sports have always been the great distraction from life’s stressors, but this historic event has directly impacted the ability to play those sports. Baseball’s time to shine has always been under the lights on a warm summer night, when other sports continue with their offseasons. But this summer, those lights might be out, and that’s just a painfully sad reality.