Baseball will be a spectator sport in parts of New England this summer.
The Futures Collegiate Baseball League announced Monday that it will have a 39-game schedule for a six-team league starting July 2.
The six-team, wood-bat league, with rosters of college players, will feature four teams based in Massachusetts — the Brockton Rox, North Shore (Lynn) Navigators, Westfield Starfires, and Worcester Bravehearts — as well as the New Britain (Conn.) Bees and Nashua (N.H.) Silver Knights. The Pittsfield Suns, who had been part of the league in 2019, won’t operate this summer.
Fans will be permitted to attend games, but with capacity restrictions established in concert with local government and health officials to ensure compliance with COVID-19 protocols. Concessions will be available in the ballparks, though with modified distribution practices.
“We might be one of the few shows in town,” said FCBL commissioner Joe Paolucci. “I think it’s going to be exciting for our league and hopefully give some hope to these players who missed their entire spring season and have been champing at the big to get back out there.”
The league, entering its 10th season, will open with games in Nashua and New Britain, in states that already have permitted the resumption of capacity-controlled mass gatherings. New Britain, for instance, can play games initially at 25 percent of the capacity of New Britain Stadium.
Massachusetts has yet to allow the resumption of outdoor mass gatherings. But the league scheduled games to take place in Massachusetts starting July 7 — “a bit of a gamble,” Paolucci acknowledged — while hoping that such activities will be permitted when Phase 3 of reopening begins, no earlier than July 6.
“In each of our communities, our owners and general managers have met with the Board of Health and gotten guidelines they have to follow,” said Paolucci. “It’s going to vary from community to community within our league what those specific guidelines are.
“But we’ve been working really hard the last three months with our readiness plan to make sure everyone feels safe from both a player and fan perspective.”
With the college season canceled and the Cape Cod League (as well as other summer college leagues) likewise having been shut down, Paolucci said that the FCBL has received player interest that is “probably better than it has ever been.”
Even so, a diminished pool of families willing to volunteer to host players for the summer has led the league to rely heavily on local players who can commute to games.
For instance, Boston College standout second baseman Cody Morissette — a 2019 Cape League All-Star, and a potential early-round 2021 draft pick — is expected to play in the FCBL.
“It’s a nice mix of local talent and top-notch prospects,” said Paolucci. “We’ve kind of had to revamp rosters a few times because, No. 1, we’ve gotten interest from these top-level prospects, but No. 2, it’s difficult, because we do rely heavily on host families in most typical seasons.”
Players have started working out and practicing in preparation for the start of the season. Those workouts have taken unusual forms, with the league committed to maintaining social distancing. But while a college summer league will require unusual practices, Paolucci felt that it was worth the effort.
“The other leagues that canceled, I’m sure it was a really difficult decision for them,” he said. “I understand 100 percent where they’re coming from.
“We just took a different approach where, all along, we were going to prepare to play up until somebody told us we were unable to play. I think it’s given us a lot of hope.”