Will Davis delivers a pitch during an Ararat Cal Ripken majors division game Saturday in Bowdoin. Engel & Volkers Casco Bay teammates Alex Newman (second base) and Keaton Parsons (right field) take in the action. Submitted photo

Ararat Cal Ripken has four teams in the majors and four in the minors, putting the participation this summer at around 67 percent of a normal year, according to league president Josh Spooner. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities have scrapped their summer baseball leagues, but some communities put protocols in place, including more cleaning of equipment and hands, distancing of players not on the field to get kids playing baseball. 

Saturday marked the opening day of Ararat Cal Ripken, and the safety precautions were on full display. Players lined the fence as they waited to hit and took their normal spots in the field for the first pitch. 

“The day went well,” Spooner said. “Beautiful weather and kids were happy to be playing baseball.”

Jon Hiltz, head coach for the Engel & Volkers Casco Bay Pirates, was happy with how the first day of baseball went. 

“I think that the general feeling was that people are out and happy to be playing on the ball field and out on the field just watching their kids having a good time,” Hiltz said. “I think it’s just a positive experience all around for everyone. I think baseball is a game that we can play safely and still adhere to the guidelines that they are asking of us, and still allow the kids to get out there and play ball.”

Spooner Enterprise pitcher Noah Cook delivers a pitch during an Ararat Cal Ripken majors game Saturday at Bowdoin Central School. Adam Robinson/The Times Record

The league put in a myriad of protocols in place to help kids stay safe, like sanitizing hands in between innings, coaches going out to pick up bats after hits and distancing of players on the fence when normally they would be bunched up in a dugout. 

“Honestly, it was more just making sure when kids were watching the game they were all trying to be six feet apart and that’s never been something I had to worry about as a youth coach so that added to things you had to think about,” Hiltz said. “We are trying to have kids not share equipment. When someone gets a walk or hit and they leave the bat at plate and have the next player get it, I was the one going out and getting it. We were doing as many things as we can to have a positive experience.”

Jayden Ross rounds second base as Caiden Chase awaits a throw during an Ararat Cal Ripken majors game Saturday in Bowdoin. Ross plays for Engel & Volkers Casco Bay while Chase suits up for Spooner Enterprise. Submitted photo

Hiltz said parents were excited to get their kids out on the field and that the ones who had reservations just didn’t sign up. The kids, mostly 11 and 12-year-olds in the majors, have been able to work with the new rules. 

“They’ve been living it for the last three months so it’s not like this is a new concept for them,” Hiltz said. “So we basically, as coaches and a league, we have stressed that, ‘Hey, in order for us to play, this is what we need to do, so let’s work together and do it,’ and they’ve been great about it.”

One parent, Matthew Cook, said he had a discussion with his wife and child, Noah Cook, about playing this summer. 

“We discussed it as a family and with our son and ultimately it was his decision to play,” Cook said. “When we saw what the protocols were, we felt like things were being done responsibly in order to be able to play.”

On Saturday morning, they knew they made the right choice.

“He’s so excited,” Cook said. “It’s 8:30 a.m., he got up at 6 a.m. when he had been sleeping in until 9 a.m. everyday. He’s excited. He did think about it, he’s a pretty cautious guy as it is so that is why it was his decision to make.”

Will Davis delivers a pitch as first baseman Brady Hiltz gets in position during an Ararat Cal Ripken majors game Saturday at Bowdoin Central School. Davis and Hiltz play for Engel & Volkers Casco Bay, which enjoyed its season opener Saturday. Submitted photo

Another parent of a player, Tracey Clinton, was happy to register her son for the league. 

“Zero reservations with baseball, look how far apart they are,” Clinton said. “I was super excited it was going, a lot of places aren’t playing. It’s good for the kids, they’ve been sitting at home for who knows how long and they need the exercise and socialization.”

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