fb-pixel Skip to main content
stan grossfeld

Boston’s amateur athletes get back in the game, unmasked and breathing easier

The Snowden High baseball team celebrates as Kalym Espaillat scores in a late inning rally in a recent game.
The Snowden High baseball team celebrates as Kalym Espaillat scores in a late inning rally in a recent game.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Throughout the Hub, rising temperatures and declining COVID-19 rates have brought some relief to a pandemic-tortured populace. If sports can be seen as a mirror of society, then things are definitely looking better.

At Garvey Park in Neponset, baseball is back. The diamond is filled with smiles and joy. The high school players are still wearing masks, but in the late innings, only a few covered their nose and mouth.

When Snowden catcher Kalym Espaillat scores a late-inning run, his teammates shout with glee. For Espaillat, wearing two masks has been problematic.

“There’s too many straps,” he says. “You’re trying to throw out a runner, it’s the worst.”

Advertisement



Latin Academy’s Sam Draisen, twice vaccinated, agrees.

“I’m a catcher, and when I have the catcher’s mask and then the other mask, it’s horrible and I can’t breathe back there,” he says. “So it’s nice to be a little looser this spring.”

Latin Academy ballplayer Sam Draisen has joy written all over his face.
Latin Academy ballplayer Sam Draisen has joy written all over his face.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Draisen, playing his first game since spring 2019 for Latin Academy, says he’s more than ready to put the pandemic behind him. Asked what felt better — getting the vaccine or the game-winning hit in a 9-6 victory — he didn’t hesitate.

Getting the vaccine “felt good, it was a bit of a relief,” he says, but the line drive felt better. “No question.”

In the Fens, John Horne is still playing pickup basketball in his 60s. Now twice vaccinated, he wears his mask like a chinstrap.

“Oh, it’s easier to breathe without the mask,” he says, flashing a smile. “You are safe to the best of your ability. But God has the final word.”

John Jones (left) and John Horne go one-on-one — and face-to-face — in the Fens.
John Jones (left) and John Horne go one-on-one — and face-to-face — in the Fens.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

His opponent in a one-on-one game is John Jones, 40, who also has been vaccinated.

“It feels good to get back into society with the mask off,” he says. “I think wearing a mask actually messed up our lungs because you’ve got to breathe extra to bring air in. You’re breathing air back through your nose and your lungs. Now I’ve got my breath back and my wind back, and it feels very good.”

Advertisement



Nearby, a man named Nate (he declines to give his last name) tosses a Frisbee with a friend. Although Governor Charlie Baker recently said masks are not required outdoors except in places where you can’t socially distance, Nate is playing things halfway. He keeps a mask on his mouth but not his nose.

“I got my first shot,” he says. “I just want to make people comfortable. It feels OK. Different strokes for different folks. I don’t think [wearing it] is that much of a hassle.”

A semi-masked man named Nate has a fling with his Frisbee.
A semi-masked man named Nate has a fling with his Frisbee.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

About 30 yards away, Curry plays Emmanuel in women’s soccer. All the participants stay masked, per NCAA rules. Coaches say they are just grateful to play after their fall season was canceled. During warmups, the Emmanuel team dances to music, with laugh lines visible around their eyes.

Behind the goal, there is a men’s pickup soccer game sans masks, punctuated by laughter.

Harvey Roweth, whose Twitter feed says he is a “worshipper of soccer and music,” says the renewed camaraderie and the relaxation of rules provide a big psychological lift.

“On a day when it’s hot and humid, this is such a relief,” he says. “Doing this with a mask would be really tough. It’s tough enough as it is anyway.”

Advertisement



At Carson Beach in South Boston, every volleyball court is filled, and masks are mostly a memory. Mary Donahue of Braintree elevates her long arms above the net and spikes the ball over an opponent. Her teammates high-five her.

This is much better than last summer, she says.

“We were wearing masks and not giving high-fives,” she says. “It’s nice to be able to breathe a little easier.”

Mary Donahue (left) is uplifted by shedding her mask.
Mary Donahue (left) is uplifted by shedding her mask.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Kai Chan of Cambridge says he had no complaints about wearing a mask: “It was difficult, but it made a lot of sense for safety.”

It also gave him a new appreciation of things taken for granted.

“I love feeling the breeze on my face,” he says.

Kai Chan has the breeze in his face and the wind in his sails.
Kai Chan has the breeze in his face and the wind in his sails.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Hannah Shaich of Cambridge agrees.

“For sure I took things for granted,” she says. “Definitely having a world where everything was shut down makes me appreciate when we do get together again.”

At Teddy Ebersol Field on the banks of the Charles River, Billy Risigo, a cybersecurity analyst, smiles as he does soccer drills. It has been years since he played the game he loved.

“I was a Division 1 athlete and I was burned out,” he says.

But the pandemic changed all that.

“I was stuck inside on my computer the entire quarantine time, and the one thing I wanted to do was get back to this,” he says. “It’s literally the first time I touched a ball in three years. I realized how much I missed things.”

Advertisement



Billy Risigo is getting a kick out of soccer again.
Billy Risigo is getting a kick out of soccer again. Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

He also enjoys no longer getting dirty looks for taking off his mask.

“To be able to breathe the air, and not feel the guilt of other people, is a nice thing.”


Stan Grossfeld can be reached at stanley.grossfeld@globe.com.