The senior-laden Hopkinton High School baseball team never had the chance to take the field this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so when coach Steve Simoes saw an opportunity to get the group one more opportunity to play together, he took it.
“I never get involved with summer baseball, I let the kids get away from me,” Simoes said. “But I think this group has a lot they wanted to prove. It was an exciting year to coach because there were 11 seniors and only two had interest in playing beyond high school. … The others just love being around the game and around each other.”
Hopkinton will join the Central Mass. Senior Babe Ruth League, a wooden bat summer league for high school-age players. The start date and many of the details surrounding how the league will play amid a pandemic, even one on the wane for Massachusetts, remained unclear as of last week.
In order for games to take place, Massachusetts would need to move into the third phase of its reopening plan, which initially was slated for June 29. However, Gov. Charlie Baker recently said the start date will be no earlier than July 6 to allow for health officials to see whether two weeks of indoor dining and the lifting of other restrictions has an effect on the number of cases.
The guidelines for getting on fields and how many players will be allowed in the dugout, among other things, can vary from municipality to municipality, Simoes said. One team, Framingham, will not be allowed to host games for two weeks, throwing a wrench into scheduling before the first pitch is thrown.
Nine of the 11 HHS seniors who would have been on this year’s varsity team will play for the Senior Ruth squad.
“We have plenty of interest,” Simoes said. “Now it’s just a matter of logistics.
All players had to sign a COVID-19 waiver, and the town of Hopkinton is involved in setting protocols for social distancing and other health-related measures. Simoes said the league likely would have games without fans. Even the start date, July 6, was tentative since the state could further delay implementing the third phase.
But that hasn’t stopped the players from getting together in small groups to play catch, hit in the cage, or see some live pitching.
“It’s all very exciting,” Hopkinton High 2020 graduate Drew Rancatore said shortly after one such informal practice session. “When I heard that Coach Simoes was going to be able to do this, I couldn’t believe what an opportunity this was. Missing out on the regular season was a bummer, but this makes up for it. We get to have a final go.”
Simoes said practices should begin this month ahead of the planned start date for games. The team will be donning old green uniforms from the athletic department that Rancatore described as “throwbacks with a nice, retro fit.”
The Hillers will head into the summer season as the defending Tri-Valley League champions from 2019, but the Senior Babe Ruth League includes teams from a footprint stretching beyond the TVL. Simoes said the Hillers have been able to do some workouts and hold team meetings via video conference during the spring.
“A lot of these kids had worked hard to prepare for their senior season,” he said.
Jack Breslin, another HHS 2020 graduate, said the energy and anticipation ahead of the summer season is palpable.
“These are the guys I grew up with and I love them to death,” Breslin said. “To get an opportunity to get some closure and put an end to my baseball career and my high school road with these guys would mean the world.”