Return to Diamond Is Welcome for Local Baseball Players

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Baseball’s return is bringing some normalcy to players like Billy Minett.

The Yankees and Mets have finally started their 2020 Major League Baseball seasons, and many Catholic high school players as well as recent graduates like Minett have returned to the diamond this month for summer league baseball.

“There is some normalcy, but it’s not completely back to normal,” the graduate of Msgr. Farrell High School on Staten Island told CNY a day after the school’s commencement ceremonies were held July 25.

Players are happy to be back to baseball, even if that means conforming to Covid-19 rules set by teams and leagues. Being cautious may not always be enough as the Yankees game in Philadelphia was postponed July 27 after at least 14 Miami Marlins players and staff members tested positive for coronavirus. The Marlins played in Philadelphia before the Yankees and had used the visitors’ clubhouse, dugout and bullpen.

Minett began playing in early July with teammates from his Staten Island Orioles youth travel team in a men’s league on Staten Island. The 18-year-old catcher admitted to mixed emotions when asked about how safe he feels on the field. “I’m scared and I’m not scared at the same time,” he said.

Players and coaches must practice social distancing and are not shaking hands and giving high-fives, and the league slowly began allowing a limited number of fans to attend games.

“It felt awesome to put the cleats on and get back on the field. It feels great to be playing again,” said Minett, who will play at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill.

When Minett arrives at St. Thomas Aquinas, he’ll join other Catholic high school graduates from the archdiocese such as Angelo Baez, a graduate of Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx, and James Reilly, an alumnus of Albertus Magnus High School in Bardonia.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ season was canceled in March due to the pandemic, and the NCAA granted Baez and Reilly an extra year of eligibility. Both hope to be drafted by Major League teams.

Baez, who has one year of college eligibility remaining, is pitching for the Worcester Bravehearts in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League of New England.

Through July 26, the 21-year-old had a 1-1 record with a 1.35 earned run average and 27 strikeouts in 22 innings, good for second in the league, and his ERA ranks fifth.

“I feel grateful and blessed I’m able to play baseball this summer,” Baez said. “I don’t remember ever going four months without playing baseball.”

Each team in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League has its own set of Covid-19 guidelines. Worcester, for instance, checks temperatures of players and staff before they enter the clubhouse and board the team bus for road games, and does not permit players to chew gum or sunflower seeds. Players must wear masks if they are not socially distant, six feet or more, from each other.

Fans are allowed to attend games with socially distanced seating, but players are not permitted to sign autographs, or give out baseballs or gear to fans. Players also cannot shake hands or high-five fans, umpires or opposing players before, during and after games.

“It’s different but I’m grateful to be playing baseball again,” Baez said. “I guess there will always be concerns, but at the same time the league and our team are doing a good job monitoring this and taking precautions. I think we’ll be fine.”

Baez said he’s happy to see the Yankees playing again and watched their July 23 season opener with Worcester teammates, including some who are New York natives.

Reilly, a 38th-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2016, is competing with the Rockland Pirates in the Hudson Valley Collegiate Baseball League, which is marking its 25th season in 2020.

“I missed being in the dugout and cheering for teammates from the bullpen or dugout,” the 22-year-old pitcher said. 

“Getting back on the field…was very important to me. I want to come back in the fall in the best shape possible to show coaches I was being productive this summer.”

New for the 2020 season, players are practicing social distance and have the option of wearing a mask, and the home plate umpire is now calling balls and strikes from behind the pitcher’s mound. In the past, the home team brought the baseballs, but now both teams supply their own balls when they’re on the field.

Reilly, who has two years of eligibility remaining at St. Thomas Aquinas, is a Yankees fan but roots for the Mets pitchers, too. He said he expects pitchers to be ahead of the hitters for the first few weeks of the season.

He said he’s happy to watch live games on television and to be competing again. “I’m getting my life back now,” Reilly said.

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