By Austin Green
Opening Day at Pasadena Southwest Little League could not have taken place on a more beautiful spring Saturday. Birds chirped along to the sound of a light breeze through the trees at Allendale Park, the sun was out, the air was clear and the temperature read 75 degrees on the dot.
Stan Gray Field was once again filled with the usual voices of children and adults in the midst of a full day’s slate of youth baseball games. Kids ran around to get their final warmups in before their respective games, or made a beeline to the nearby playground after. Coaches yelled instruction and encouragement. Parents settled into the stands and chatted to each other.
All around the diamond, the sights and sounds were brilliantly normal. Which, in the age of COVID-19, is exactly what made them so extraordinary.
“It’s as close as we’ve felt to normal in a year, so it’s been great,” said Chris Murphy, a PSWLL parent.
“It couldn’t be a nicer day. It’s so nice to see the kids back together, playing together,” added his wife, Megan Murphy.
Chris and Megan’s son had just finished his game with the PSWLL Triple-A Yankees. Like everyone else on the premises, he was donning a mask that he wore for the entire game — with no exceptions — except for drinking water.
“The kids — I’ve been very impressed by how responsible they’ve been and how willing they’ve been to wear masks. Like no one complains, everyone just knows like this is what we have to do and they’re willing to do it,” Chris Murphy said.
The masks were not the only reminder that for all the indicators of normalcy, the coronavirus pandemic still posed a threat. Only a handful of Little League players stayed in the dugout when it was their turn to hit, instead standing further apart from each other outside the dugout. The first two rows of both sets of bleachers at Stan Gray were also marked for players to sit socially distanced, and parents distanced among themselves in the bleachers as well.
Behind the scenes, the journey to get to Opening Day was anything but normal. PSWLL President George Hasbun did not know if a 2021 season was even possible until late February, when state and local health officials released guidelines that provided a roadmap to youth sports’ return. In the weeks since, Hasbun half-jokingly estimated that he has answered over 10,000 emails. He also worked the phones to help recruit dozens of volunteers and coaches for his league’s 30 teams across six divisions.
“We’ve been scrambling the last month to try to throw a season together for 300 kids in like three weeks when we usually do it [with] six months of planning,” Hasbun said.
There were plenty other logistical hurdles, and with California and Los Angeles County having some of the strictest COVID-19 regulations in the country, the national Little League organization’s resources were of little help in drafting pandemic protocols for PSWLL. Meanwhile, many unrelated tasks had to be addressed. The field needed reseeding; the teams needed organizing; the practice times needed to be sorted out.
Securing jerseys for each team proved to be a particularly tough challenge, as Hasbun described a “mad scramble” for Little League uniforms nationwide and particularly in L.A. County as reopening progressed. PSWLL came down to the wire, finally securing its jerseys the night before Opening Day. Triple-A Giants head coach Matthew Alexander handed them out to his players just minutes before they took the field against Hasbun’s Triple-A Cubs.
Alexander predicted that once the game started, it would feel more like a scrimmage because of the limited practice time leading up to the game. He was right — the Giants led 7-4 by the second inning, with much of the offense coming via walks on both sides. Still, it was easy for everyone involved to maintain perspective.
“COVID and the lockdown has been so hard on the kids,” Alexander said. “They’ve basically been cooped up in their houses for the better part of a year. They couldn’t play with their friends; it wasn’t safe to do so. It’s not developmentally appropriate for kids to be that isolated. Once it became clear that it was safer to be outdoors than indoors, when case counts started to come down and the Pasadena youth sports protocol allowed us to start playing again, we were really eager to get the kids back out here in some form… it’s Little League. It’s about the kids, it’s about having fun. That’s all that matters.”
Hasbun is already looking ahead to the warmer weather in the coming months, and hopes that guidance can be altered by then so that kids do not have to wear masks while running, hitting and throwing in the sun. Still, he allowed himself to celebrate the victory of just getting to this point.
“Oh, so rewarding. It’s been awesome,” Hasbun said. “Families are out and everyone’s very grateful and thankful and it’s great to see the kids having fun again. Everyone’s been following the rules, which is really good. We have a lot of people who are taking this seriously, which is important. If we didn’t have parents and coaches and everybody taking it seriously, it wouldn’t work.”