Iowa high school baseball coaches, players adjust to new procedures in first week of practice

Marion’s baseball coach, Steve Fish, formed a routine for 21 seasons with the Indians and nearly four decades of coaching in total.

When the Hall of Fame captain hits the ballpark, his first stop is the dugout – a sanctuary of sorts for staff and players as they prepare for practice or games.

Not this season. Dugout canoes are banned in a bid to avoid crowding and promote social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“In a weird way, it was kind of tough,” said Fish, who has 715 career wins. “So when you’re dealing with twenty college kids, you have to spread them all over the line and tell them to spread their bags.”

Baseball players and coaches have adapted and adapted well to new safety guidelines and procedures created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Programs across the state began their second week of training, preparing for the start of competition Monday.

“I think it went well,” North Linn coach Travis Griffith said. “It really teaches me, the coaching staff and the kids what our normalcy is now, what’s okay and what’s not.”

Iowa High School Athletic Association deputy principal Todd Tharp said he was not aware of any programs or players who tested positive for COVID-19 or required quarantine. The local Ministry of Health would deal with these cases and determine how to proceed.

“It’s been pretty quiet,” Tharp said. “I hope that means we asked as many questions as possible and answered them. They’re just getting ready to play.

Griffith and Fish did not send any players home due to symptoms or possible exposure to the coronavirus, which is consistent with most Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Metro schedules.

“So far, one kid has missed a workout, and it was because of migraines,” Griffith said. “He had no temperature at all. It was nothing related to the coronavirus.

Many coaches and players are rooted in tradition and set in their ways. Constant reminders are necessary for everyone involved. The focus remained on cleaning hands during breaks and staying 6 feet apart. The terms spaying and spacing could join “rock and fire” and “grab and tear” in the vernacular of baseball.

“I think I said ‘sanitize’ and ‘stay away’ more than anything else, even the baseball stuff,” Fish said. “We constantly try to remind them to sanitize after exercises. This part was different.

Some teams split teams to limit the number of players on the field at the same time. Others have added more stations, asking players to sanitize their hands with each rotation. Fish said this situation is the biggest change he has ever experienced in his career, but the basic teaching of the game is the same.

“Baseball was still baseball,” Fish said of the first week of practice. “We were able to work on things that we would normally have worked on. It really didn’t impact baseball instructions other than trying to sanitize and stay away.

The majority of the responsibility lies with the coaches. They had to record temperatures and inquire about possible symptoms. They also had to schedule extra time to sanitize during breaks. Coaches should also take the time after practice to sterilize shared equipment.

“It’s not too bad,” Griffith said. “When the kids are done raking, they put bats against the fence near our shed and then the rakes on the other side of the fence. They don’t store anything. I’m going to clean it and put it away… I’ll come and do it before the next day.

Tharp confirmed that there have been some changes. In addition to the ban on concessions, team buffet meals are not permitted, but pre-packaged meals are permitted. Additionally, throwers will be permitted to have a wet towel with them, providing an alternative to licking their fingers between throws for better grip.

Four schools will not field baseball teams, including Meskwaki, Belmond-Klemme and Eagle Grove. Players from these four programs will be able to play for any other program with a team, if that school accepts them.

“We have kids who can play baseball somewhere else in the summer and then be able to go back to their school, so they’re kind of free agents for three months for the most part,” Tharp said. “Schools have to decide if they want a kid from Belmond-Klemme to play baseball for two or three months and then go back to Belmond-Klemme? Will the parents be upset if this child is going to take someone’s place? They have difficult decisions to make in this regard.

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Marion head coach Steve Fish swings during practice on the court before the start of the Indians’ doubleheader game against West Delaware at Marion High School in Marion, Iowa on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

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