Ryan Sorgi had a big smile on his face Wednesday night as he walked back and forth in the dugout in his catcher’s gear, fist-bumping his Braintree teammates before first pitch.
Not too long ago, Sorgi wasn’t sure when he would play baseball next after the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled both his senior season at Braintree High and the American Legion season.
But the Braintree catcher is now one of the 450 local high school and college level players back on the diamond and reaping the benefits of the Massachusetts Independent Baseball League, a one-off summer league co-founded by Braintree manager Cam Fox and Quincy skipper Steve Maze that was created for the District 6 teams impacted by Legion’s cancellation.
Sorgi said he’s thrilled to be playing with his Braintree teammates one final time before heading off to Springfield College in the fall.
“I really didn’t think we were going to play baseball for a long time,” Sorgi said. “We were all reluctant and unsure that a season was going to happen, but luckily it did. It’s great to be together with my teammates again. Heading out to practice, hanging out in the locker room, it’s unreal to be back.”
When American Legion canceled its eight regional tournaments, as well as its World Series, in early May, and then the entire season two days later, Maze said he would do anything within the CDC guidelines to get his players on the field this summer.
Teaming up with Fox, the two organized a Zoom meeting with other District 6 coaches to gauge interest about starting their own independent league for the summer. Everyone was in.
Fox and Maze spent the next month contacting lawyers, health professionals, and town officials about how to properly get the league off the ground during a worldwide pandemic. What they discovered was that players needed to sign a waiver before playing, and that mask-wearing and social distancing must be implemented.
“We said there’s no reason why we can’t try and be proactive and put a league together for the kids,” said Fox, a 2007 Braintree High grad who is now the pitching coach for the varsity program. “We were so proactive and agreed to put in two and a half months of work and see what happens. The worst thing to do was wait to get the green light and not be prepared.”
On July 6, when Gov. Charlie Baker gave the OK for Phase 3 of Massachusetts’ reopening plan, the MIBL was ready to go. Games started a day later, and the league, which has 16 teams in the Senior Division and eight in the Junior Division, is now in the midst of its second week of play. Ashland sits atop the standings in the Senior Division at 5-0, while Franklin is the only other undefeated team at 4-0.
Fox said the league is more balanced than ever this summer because a lot of the players partaking are rising sophomores in college who had their pivotal freshman year of development wiped out.
For instance, Ashland’s Jackson Hornung, the MIBL’s reigning Player of the Week, played in just six of Skidmore College’s 10 games this spring. At Franklin, Jake Macchi and Alex Haba, both critical pieces of the Panthers’ 2018 Super 8 title run, got in only 15 games at Merrimack College before the season was halted.
The same goes for Hyde Park pitcher Kevin Zarnoch, a Dorchester resident and Boston Latin graduate who compiled just two innings at Worcester State this spring and was crushed when the team’s annual trip to Florida was canceled.
Like Sorgi, Zarnoch believed summer ball would be off the table too, but was relieved to find out about the MIBL. The righthander said he missed the competitiveness of taking the mound against live batters.
“You can throw and hit all you want, but at the end of the day there’s nothing like competing against another team,” Zarnoch said. “I missed pitching and it’s unreal to be able to play again.”
The MIBL is set to have a 15-game regular season that concludes on Aug. 2. From there, all 16 teams will enter a pool-style playoff bracket to crown a champion.
Most teams in the league are carrying the maximum 25-man roster, and Fox said the most rewarding aspect of the MIBL is watching all the players who were unable to have a spring season enjoy summer ball during a time of uncertainty.
“It’s been awesome, having all these kids out there,” said Fox. “I’ve been playing my entire roster. We’ve had a blast and its special for these kids who couldn’t play a sport this spring. It’s been really cool.”