WATERTOWN — When small spurts of warm April air begin drifting into the north country, baseball season is never far behind. According to the perpetually decreasing countdown clock on the Watertown Rapids’ website, the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League is 53 days from beginning its 2020 season.
As of now, that remains the case. The PGCBL is still planning to begin its season on time with the Rapids’ opening day being May 29, but COVID-19 could change that.
In a press release on the PGCBL website, league president Robert Julian stated, “We will follow all of the CDC recommendations and standards as established by the NCAA and the baseball industry with regard to commencing the season and protecting the health and well-being of the players, our staff and fans. However, we look forward with optimism that our season will commence, and we are making preparations accordingly.”
For the Rapids, everyday operations move slower now than they would typically. Watertown’s new general manager Nick Czerow said the most challenging part is not being able to connect with potential partners in person.
“The biggest challenge is kind of the speed of accomplishing things right now,” Czerow said. “It’s tough not being able to go talk to partners and about potential group outings and people in the community face to face, because it’s so much easier to do it that way.”
Czerow said that the communication with members of the community is still occurring just not in person.
Another significant source of revenue is fan attendance. Almost every sports league has discussed the possibility of playing games without fans in attendance, but according to Czerow the discussions haven’t gone there yet for Watertown and the PGCBL.
“Right now, our league discussion is that we’re just kind of monitoring if we can start the regular season on time for May 29,” Czerow said. “Our league has a call (today) and I’m sure we’ll discuss what to do moving forward, we definitely want to stay safe and protect everyone as best as we can and not put anyone in a bad position for our fans or our players.”
Czerow and new field manager John Rizzo have been putting together the team and already have a sizeable number of players on the roster. The coronavirus and its impact on the college baseball season has not had a negative impact on the Rapids’ recruiting, they said.
“I think recruiting has gone really well, I’ve reached out to people and gotten some good feedback,” Rizzo said. “People who have been in my circle and have helped me so much in this game, they also have a lot of great connections and I’ve reached out to some of them to try and recruit that way. We have excellent players coming in and we hope we have the opportunity to play this year.”
Without a college baseball season, college coaches are looking to summer leagues for more of their pitchers.
“It’s an opportunity for even more pitchers to play. In the spring a lot of pitchers go a lot of innings and they don’t want to throw their arms out in the summer,” Rizzo said. “While we still don’t want to do that with any arms, I’m getting in touch with more coaches that now have more pitchers they’re looking to place. More guys to get an opportunity because they lost that in the spring.”
Rizzo, an assistant coach at Ithaca College, has been spending his days trying to become a better coach. That’s included a lot of reading and watching baseball along with talking to mentors who have been around the game for quite some time.
“I’ve had a lot of great mentors that have seen everything in baseball and it’s been an awesome opportunity for me, I’ve learned so much and with all that experience, none of them have dealt with this,” Rizzo said. “It is new to all of us. The message is the same, you do what you can do. You can’t control it, so for me right now, at Ithaca I was an assistant, but I was also the head JV coach. So, I’ve tried to stay in touch with those players, help them if I can.”