• Nick Zacharias

Team sports during a pandemic – making softball safe


PHOTO COURTESY JAY DE LA DURANTAYE

Jay de la Durantaye (back row far right) poses with team Cozy Café of the Hudson Mixed Softball League during last season’s COVID-free days. The team is gamely tackling softball again this summer in what will be a shortened season complying with sanitizing and social distancing regulations.

This year’s Hudson Mixed Softball League season got off to a bit of a rough start. With all sports gatherings shut down earlier this spring, things weren’t originally certain for 2020, but with approval from the government the league finally got things rolling with two exciting season opener games on July 13 at Benson Park.

Pitching to women

“Normally we have about eight teams,” said Jay de la Durantaye, who plays with team ‘Cozy Café’ in the mixed social league, “but this season we’re down to five. We’re missing a lot of people whose lives have been disrupted, or who have concerns about exposure because of more vulnerable loved ones.”

With less players coming out to the field, his team found themselves short a number of women, so de la Durantaye put out a call last week on social media looking to recruit.

“The die-hards were in,” he said, “but we still needed more women. In a few days we managed to get 10 or 12 new players signed up, enough to fill our roster and even to help fill out a couple of other teams.”

Socially distanced social league

Described as a league that’s ‘fun but competitive too,’ players have been running the bases and fans have been cheering in the stands two or three evenings a week for many seasons, often with coolers nearby. But with COVID-19 restrictions in place, players will be using a little extra caution. The league’s website explains, “This will be a special season and all participants will need to respect the Town of Hudson and Softball Quebec directives for the safety of all.”

Some new regulations include a maximum of 50 people gathered per game, with handshaking and other physical contact banned (aside from incidental contact during play). Two-metre distancing on benches in the dugout is required, and masks are recommended for spectators but not players. All of the usual precautions for hand washing and sanitizing of equipment will stay in place, and captains will confirm each participant’s health status before they’re allowed to play. Softball Quebec also asks that catchers position themselves as far as possible from the batter, and gameplay has switched to a three-pitch ‘gimme ball’ format (where each batter gets three chances to hit a fair ball with a pitcher from their own team) in an effort to better cope with the new requirements.

Changed season

Like a batter’s swing on a bunt, this season has been dramatically shortened. Said de la Durantaye, “Normally we have about 26 or 27 games a year, plus playoffs, and we go from May to October. This year because of the pandemic, it’s going to be a lot shorter. We just got started, but teams should get 16 games and the whole thing will be done by mid-September.”

Still, even with all the changes, players are happy just to be able to get back to the game. Any chance to feel a bit of normalcy is welcome, and the league’s website has a popup that ends with what could be a catchphrase for this summer – “Let’s have fun and play safe.”

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