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NECBL Commissioner: Canceling Season the 'Responsible Thing to Do'
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
02:35PM / Saturday, May 02, 2020
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Joe Wolfe Field will be silent for 2020 NECBL season after the league canceled all games.


NECBL had to weigh the well-being of players and the logistics of trying for a postponed season before making the decision  to cancel. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The directors of the New England Collegiate Baseball League waited as long as they could to hold a vote no one wanted to take and affirm a decision that was largely out of their hands.
 
"We wanted to be a ray of hope for our communities, but the ramifications of doing so felt reckless," NECBL Commissioner Sean McGrath said on Saturday morning.
 
Instead, the board Friday had the responsible but unenviable task of informing the league's players, fans and communities that it would not be holding a 2020 season becuase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
For the first time since 2001, the North Adams SteepleCats will not bring collegiate all-stars from around the nation to Joe Wolfe Field for a 44-game season that was scheduled to begin on June 3.
 
"Delaying from June to July doesn't change the science," McGrath said. "Quite frankly, the decision was made for us. But we did carefully look at all the criteria and all the factors.
 
"It's an empty feeling, I'll tell you that, to think that we won't have any NECBL games around New England this summer. It's a big part of our communities."
 
McGrath spent Saturday morning making and returning calls to partners who help make the league possible each summer and media catching up on a decision the league announced via Twitter at 10 p.m. Friday night.
 
Twelve hours later, McGrath said that while he had heard some suggest the announcement was timed as a "Friday news dump," the timing of the decision was coincidental.
 
"This meeting has been on the schedule for two weeks," McGrath said of Friday's teleconference.
 
It has been a busy two months for league and team officials from the NECBl's 13 franchises as they consulted with officials in their host communities, followed the guidance coming out of six New England capitals, thought about possible "Plan B" scenarios that used something other than a June 3 start date and hoped they could avoid making what, in the end, felt like an inevitable decision.
 
But as the calendar turned to May, league officials knew that they could not wait any longer to shut things down for 2020.
 
"Obviously, to operate a summer collegiate baseball league with all those teams — a lot of work goes into every summer," McGrath said. "With opening day in June, we had 450-plus players from around the country trying to make travel plans. We had 13 communities trying to coordinate fields, events, host families. There's a lot that goes into it. There needs to be some lead time.
 
"As we looked at all the available options that would be in front of us, one thing we talked about was postponing the season. But the reality is the science and the experts tell us that social distancing will remain with us in some fashion throughout the summer. You can't play the game of baseball with social distancing."
 
There are different conditions on the ground for each of the league's 13 teams, he said.
 
The Danbury Westerners are in Connecticut's Fairfield County, in the New York City Metropolitan Area. The Martha's Vineyard Sharks are on an island with limited health care options, where officials are requesting second-home owners skip the 2020 summer season and where an August agricultural fair that has run for 158 years already has been canceled. In Rhode Island, home of the Newport Gulls, this week they canceled the Newport Jazz Festival and the governor talked about not holding Fourth of July celebrations. In some NECBL towns, local officials were saying that if games were held at all, they would be played in front of limited numbers of fans or no fans.
 
Another complicating factor was the physical well-being of the players themselves, even leaving the COVID-19 considerations aside.
 
There is no college baseball season this spring. So if the players did report to the 13 New England cities and towns in late or early June, they would have to hold some sort of spring training before they could even play games. And once the games began, the pitchers likely would have been on strict pitch counts.
 
"There are not too many Division I pitchers with 90-plus mph fastballs and breaking pitches throwing to their parents in the backyard — off a mound," McGrath said.
 
McGrath said teams had started to hear concerns raised by players, parents and college coaches about how a summer league would address these issues, but there was far from a groundswell of support for cancelation.
 
"For everyone who is concerned, there is another one begging to be back on a team and be in competition," he said. "Not surprisingly, it's a reflection of society."
 
Another constituency that the NECBL had to take into consideration: the community partners who are critical to the success of the summer wood bat league.
 
"You look at our sponsors — all the local businesses who are the lifeblood of our organization," McGrath said. "They're struggling. Is [playing this summer] the best way to support them?"
 
Looking out the window on a glorious spring morning Saturday, it was especially difficult to think about all those summer nights that won't hear the crack of the bat ringing out at NECBL parks like North Adams' Joe Wolfe Field. But, in the end, there was no choice.
 
"It pains us to have to make this decision, but it's the responsible thing to do under the circumstances," McGrath said. "We can now turn our attention to supporting our communities and helping all the communities get through the summer together.
 
"And we can turn our attention to making sure 2021, when our season begins, is great. We fully expect 2021 to be a banner year for our communities where our fans come out with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement."
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