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Youth sports present perfect chance to begin playing baseball and softball

Youth sports is the perfect place to restart organized athletics, according to Stanford University School of Medicine professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.

Speaking on a virtual roundtable hosted by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, on Thursday morning, Bhattacharya said as long as proper precautions are taken, baseball and softball present the perfect opportunity to begin playing organized sports because of its natural social distancing. He also said data suggest children are far less susceptible to the most arduous of COVID-19 effects, and it’s far less likely children with the virus will pass it along to adults.

“There will still need to be a lot of careful thinking about how to protect the participants and the parents and coaches in the area,” Bhattacharya said. “There are still questions about mask-wearing, hand-washing and all those things we’ve become accustomed to in the last couple months which will have to take a central role. But baseball and softball are among the top of sports that we can impose these sort of norms that we’ve come to expect from COVID.”

Bhattacharya joined Little League President and CEO Stephen Keener, former Philadelphia Phillies MVP Jimmy Rollins, former Olympic softball gold medalist Jennie Finch, and Executive Vice President for Baseball and Softball Development for Major League Baseball Tony Reagins on Toomey’s roundtable on safely beginning to resume youth baseball and softball activities.

Bhattacharya cited a study done in Iceland on the transmission of COVID-19 and found that in none of its testing did children transmit the disease to adults. He also further explained that’s not to say it’s impossible for children to transmit the disease to adults, it’s only far less likely to happen, which is why he supports youth baseball and softball programs resuming assuming leagues follow various safety protocols.

Those protocols were laid out by Little League Baseball on Wednesday in a post on its website. Part of those protocols include in-game measures to keep both players and coaches safe. Little League received input from a number of health officials, the last of which came from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention last week.

Even on the day Keener announced the cancellation of this year’s Little League World Series as well as the World Series and regional tournaments in Little League’s other baseball and softball divisions, he encouraged local leagues to begin playing as soon as state and local health officials deemed it was safe.

“We understand there is going to be apprehension on the part of parents. But we wanted to make sure all the information was there so they can make the best decision for their family,” Keener said. “We want to put youth sports in its proper perspective of this terrible pandemic. But it’s a stark reminder of how important Little League baseball and softball is to communities. And as soon as it’s safe to do so, we want to go full steam ahead with local leagues playing baseball and softball.”

Finch, who is the mother of three children, said they returned to practice a couple weeks ago. She said she and her husband, former Major League pitcher Casey Daigle, were apprehensive about having their children return to practice in Louisiana so quickly. But she and her husband were the only parents who weren’t sure of returning in a survey done of parents of their local league.

“The league has taken all the necessary precautions,” Finch said. “But I think the best way to bring sports back is to start local and then go from there. Each kid has their own hand sanitizer. We spaced out all their bags. And with everything Dr. Jay said, I’m more confident having them out there. My 8 year old was counting down the minutes to practice and then said ‘this is the best day of my life.’ To see that joy that sports brings, as a mom, it means so much.”

Toomey said he hosted the roundtable in part because he wanted to help figure out how sports can be returned to children safely. He expressed his worries of the effects of a long lockdown on children.

“The findings and the data lend themselves to the conclusion that we can continue with youth recreation,” Toomey said. “With summer around the corner, this means that the time-honored tradition of youth baseball and youth softball should be resumed for all children.”

While Bhattacharya didn’t want to make definitive presumptions about the effect of sunlight and warmer weather on the novel coronavirus, he said the evidence shows already it spread much more quickly in an indoor setting where people are confined to certain areas. He also said early studies show the virus may be less effective in spreading during the summer months, but that it’s also still developing evidence.

“I think at the end of the day, parents are going to control the rate at which kids get out there,” said Reagins, who drafted Mike Trout as the GM for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. “I think there is a desire to get on the field and play sports. But parents are going to have to be comfortable getting out there. But I’ve spoken to enough organizations which are taking precautions to move forward. And once parents have that comfort level, I think you’ll see a lot of activity this summer. And if all the necessary precautions and protocols are followed, the chances of us being out there safely are enhanced.”

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