The 2021 season of Homewood Baseball and Softball starts on Saturday, April 17.
Homewood Baseball and Softball (HBS) is a youth baseball, softball and t-ball organization with approximately 20 different leagues and players ranging from ages 4-18.
“We've got players coming here from dozens of communities and lots of players from Homewood-Flossmoor as well,” said Nick Quirke, the director of communications for HBS.
"I think [youth baseball] is one of the pillars of our community. I think it's a way that family members can enjoy the sport and outdoors together," said Quirke. "I love seeing kids get better [at the game] and having fun with their friends in a fun and competitive, recreational environment."
Quirke said last year's season was scheduled to start in April as well. However, the season was delayed until August because of the pandemic. Within weeks of the delayed start, a Ripken-B team was asked to self-quarantine for 14 days after a coach of the team tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement issued at the time by Homewood Baseball and Softball League officials.
Despite the coach testing positive last year, Quirke stressed that no players ever actually came down with COVID-19.
“Our efforts last year were very successful in that we had zero players who contracted COVID. It wasn’t just that no one got it from softball, but no players got it at all. That is an exceptional feat,” he said.
Quirke said several safety protocols were put in place last year to prevent the spread COVID-19.
“We had safety captains at the ballpark for every game. We reduced our fields from three fields to two fields […] to maintain the distance and lower the number of people at each contact,” said Quirke.
Additionally, Quirke said the bleachers were “repurposed as an extended dugout for the players.” Family and friends watching the games were encouraged to bring their own chairs instead of sitting in the bleachers.
This year, many of the same protocols will remain, including those changes made to the bleachers, but as Quirke put it, it’ll be “slightly less stringent than it was last year.”
Quirke said this year’s safety protocols include a mask mandate for everyone who attends the games.
“If you don’t want to [wear a mask] then you can stay in the outfield or not come,” said Quirke. However, this mask mandate doesn’t apply to the players.
“Close contact [is] defined as: being in enclosed space with someone who is not wearing a mask for 15 minutes or more that you can't be six feet away from,” said Quirke. “When you’re playing softball, baseball or T-ball, the amount of time that you’d be getting tagged or standing next to a batter and a catcher is short enough. And it’s also done in an outside, well-ventilated area. The CDC allows for that level of interaction without wearing a mask.”
Quirke said there are typically about 700 to 750 players in the league, but last year there were only about 400, a 40% decrease in players.
“We gave people the choice to defer their registration to get a refund or to play. And a lot of families took advantage of our deferral option,” Quirke said.
This year, many families are returning, and the number of Homewood Baseball and Softball registered players has risen to about 550. While it’s still not the usual 700 or 750, this is about a 30% increase from last year.
“We’re definitely getting back into the swing of things,” Quirke said.
The story originally noted that a team member tested positive for COVID-19 last year. The story has been updated to clarify that it was a coach, not a player.