The high school seasons for spring athletes across Massachusetts were wiped out in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, administrators and coaches already have begun discussions about how to create the best possible baseball season in 2021.
During Wednesday’s virtual meeting of the MIAA Baseball Committee, a significant amount of the conversation centered around ideas for the format of a baseball season in the spring. The current 2020-21 calendar approved by the MIAA Board of Directors calls for spring sports practices beginning April 26 and competition running through July 3.
Committee chair Jay Costa and MIAA liaison Keith Brouillard agreed on the need to be proactive, and a subcommittee will be formed to look at issues such as COVID-19 modifications as well as any ideas for postseason play.
Oxford coach Justin Richards, the state coaches rep to the committee, pushed strongly for the possibility of retaining at least sectional tournaments for one last season before the start of statewide tournaments in 2021-22. He expressed concern that the MIAA’s four-season calendar for 2020-21 is squeezing spring athletes even further, forcing them to begin more than a month later than usual.
“I am obviously a huge advocate for having some type of a tournament and having that set up early on,” Richards said. “I would like for them to have something to look forward to.”
Costa, the athletic director at Shrewsbury, admitted to having “mixed feelings” on the idea of a sectional tournament.
“A lot of us look at our spring sports from last year, and we’re concerned about not giving kids opportunities that they lost out on the tournament last year,” Costa said. “We want to do something going forward for them this spring.”
However, Costa added that just providing spring athletes — and baseball players in particular — with as many opportunities as possible should be the priority.
Longtime South tournament director Don Fredericks echoed that, saying he was impressed by how postseason formats worked in some leagues during Fall I with soccer, field hockey, and girls’ volleyball.
“I want the kids to play more games,” Fredericks said. “I don’t want them limited to 10 if they can get to 13.”
Principals Margaret Granados (St. John’s High in Shrewsbury) and Marc Talbot (Pembroke) believed it was important to plan for the possibility of a baseball postseason and then adjust down the road if necessary.
“We don’t want something that’s going to elongate and take away playing time from the front end of the season,” Granados said. “But we certainly can, and should, I think, plan [for a possible tournament]. … We need time to plan, and plan effectively.”
Both Catholic Memorial AD Craig Najarian and Taunton principal Matt Mattos voiced concern about committing to anything that would put schools and students at further risk during the pandemic.
“I think it’s smart to try to put something in place when things improve,” Najarian said, “but as it stands today . . . to be able to make decisions on something that is [some] time away from us is really hard.
“I just think we’re in something here that is historical. I think putting a plan in place that we can pivot to would be great. I just want to try to sustain it as long as we can so that they’re on the field. If we bite off more than we can chew, and it’s over in 2½ weeks, then that’s a fail.”
The baseball committee also heard a presentation from Drew Tripp, co-founder of ChangeUp, for software that would allow for the tracking of pitch counts. In accordance with National Federation of High Schools rules, MIAA baseball was slated to begin officially tracking pitch counts and required days of rest for the 2020 season.
Tripp, son of former Wellesley AD Ted Tripp, said ChangeUp allows real-time tracking of data via an app, which can be used in-game by coaches and also for enforcement at school, league, and MIAA levels. He added there is a baseline cost of $99 per team, with bundled discounts for leagues or MIAA use. An individual player’s data also can be tracked across multiple teams.
Auburn AD Brian Davis asked whether any system ultimately used by the MIAA could track warmup pitches in the bullpen or between innings, a longtime concern during his Hall of Fame career as a high school and college coach.
“Over the years people forget those pitches, but they are still pitches, they’re still throws, they’re still taxing the arm,” said Davis, who led Hudson to a pair of Division 2 state titles.
Jim Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.