Youth softball players from all across the southeast region have taken over the Gulfport Sportsplex this week for the 2020 National Fastpitch Alliance Home Lenders National Championship.
Stadiums and ballparks around the world haven’t seen action since early March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gulfport, however, has welcomed back softball. The National Fastpitch Alliance is hosting a youth softball tournament at the Gulfport Sportsplex while still taking precautions to help limit the spread of COVID. One major change is the scheduling of games throughout the day. NFA Executive Director Dale Palmer said, “We put games at a two hour and a half time gap. So, we were allowing a minimum of 30 minutes between games so we didn’t have two teams at one dugout at the same time.”
Spacing out the games allows for one team to leave a field before the next team scheduled to play on the field even enters the sportsplex, cutting the total number of people in the ballpark at one time in half, says Palmer.
Some of the new COVID-19 guidelines have made players give up game traditions including chewing sunflower seeds in the dugouts and post-game handshake lines. “It’s hard to get out of old habits. As long as there’s been softball and baseball, after the game’s over the cordial thing to do is to say ‘hey good game guys.’ So what we’ve done or what we’ve seen done now is the teams will walk out– out of the dugout after the game and just wave and say ‘hey great game girls’ and then we’ll walk off and go our separate way.”
Each team is also given a bucket of balls to use throughout all of their games to prevent teams from touching and playing with the same ball as their competitors.
Spectators are also subject to the new rules. Only two household members of each player on the field are allowed to watch the games in person. Fans are also encouraged to wear face masks until they find a place to watch the games, six feet away from other fans. “It’s hard to get used to, but we know it’s best for us right now.”