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Despite cancelations, grassroots baseball lives on

Lemonade League

With the Minor League Baseball season canceled and many summer-collegiate leagues operating on a limited basis due to local restrictions, baseball has been a largely improvised endeavor across the country. Here are some developments worth noting.

The Lansing Lugnuts are launching a self-contained wood-bat league to be played in July and August at Cooley Law School Stadium. The Lemonade League is based on a simple premise: When life gives you lemons in the form of no Minor League Baseball season, you create your own baseball season.

“Due to factors beyond our control, it was not possible to have a Minor League Baseball season. The thought of not having baseball here this summer was something we couldn’t fathom,” said Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson. “This community has supported us for over 24 years now—through every up and down our state has been through. We owe it to them to try and activate the ballpark and provide a safe place for community to gather and come together.

“We couldn’t be more excited to present the Lemonade League,” said general manager Tyler Parsons. “This is going to be a ton of fun, and we’re going to mix in some exciting new rules changes that will only enhance the experience. At the same time, the health and safety of players, coaches, staff and fans is the most important, and we are enacting a full scale COVID-19 plan with the support of the City of Lansing and Ingham County Health Department.”

The Lemonade League will officially open its season if/when the state of Michigan moves to Phase 5, with an expected schedule of about 20 games from July through mid-August. This schedule would include crowd favorites as Bobblehead Giveaways, Labatt Blue Thirsty Thursdays and LAFCU Post-Game Fireworks on Friday and Saturday nights. All Lemonade League tickets are general admission: $5 for regular game days and $7 for premium game days, with ballpark capacity regulated by the state of Michigan.

In contrast to the usual nine-inning Midwest League game, each Lemonade League game will last only seven innings. If a game is tied after seven innings, a one-on-one Home Run Derby will decide the victor.

Another significant change from the usual Lugnuts game: The Lemonade League will use yellow baseballs.

The Lemonade League will consist of players from Michigan State University, Lansing Community College, Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, the University of Toledo, Davenport University, Wayne State University, Grand Valley State University, Kalamazoo College, Saginaw Valley State University, Albion College, Ohio Valley University, and Olivet College. These players will be divided into two teams, one wearing the Lansing Lugnuts’ white, black and red jerseys, the other wearing the Lansing Locos’ gemstone blue and marigold jerseys.

K-Town Bobbers

In Wisconsin, the hodgepodge of local COVID-19 mitigation regulations has been a challenge for the summer-collegiate Northwoods League, with several teams participating in a Minnesota/Wisconsin pod. But in other communities where stringent restrictions are in place, teams have shut down for the summer: both the Madison Mallards and Lakeshore Chinooks pulled the plug on the season.

But a new Northwoods League pod will begin play on July 15, as the Kenosha Kingfish will take on a new squad, the K-Town Bobbers, in the 26-game Kenosha at Historic Simmons Field. A socially distanced, limited capacity of approximately 25 percent will be allowed into the ballpark. Each team will play 13 home games during the season.

External circumstances are forcing the Worcester Bravehearts of the summer-collegiate Futures League to host a 2020 season at Leominster’s Doyle Field. The move is a temporary one for the Bravehearts, who were forced to find a new home after Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross was closed for the summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doyle Field—located just south of Route 2 at 100 Priest Street—is a 21-acre parcel of land that was gifted to the City of Leominster in 1931 by former Mayor Bernard W. Doyle. The field went through a series of upgrades in 2014 with new fencing, additional seating, and a new scoreboard in left field.

“The Bravehearts are eager to bring Futures League baseball back to Leominster,” said team owner John Creedon, Jr. via press statement. “We look forward to combining the Bravehearts’ brand of hospitality including things like hot dogs and cold beer with outstanding baseball to bring smiles—under masks, of course—to the families of the Leominster area this summer.”

But something important to keep in mind: Things can change quickly. The Lexington County Blowfish of the summer-collegiate Coastal Plain League were set to launch play this past Wednesday when an order came down from South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster that no fans were to be allowed into sporting events after a rise in COVID-19 cases. The Blowfish had made what owner Bill Shanahan assumed were all necessary changes to the ballpark—lots of hand sanitizer and social-distanced seating—with capacity limited to 25 percent.

The game did go on without fans in the stands, and the Blowfish season as part of the SummerBall Series with Macon and Savannah has proceeded with no fans in the stands. But the last-minute decision by McMaster underscored an important point: today’s COVID-19 mitigation measures are not guaranteed to be in place the rest of the summer, and with the number of reported cases and positive rates rising in many states, scheduling baseball games this summer is surely a leap of faith.

This article first appeared in the Ballpark Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? It’s free, and you’ll see features like this before they appear on the Web. Go here to subscribe to the Ballpark Digest newsletter.

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