Thunder Bay

'It's up in the air': Port Arthur Nationals hope Little League players can take field in 2021

One of Thunder Bay's Little League organizations remains hopeful players will take the field at some point this year, but things are currently "up in the air."

Travel teams won't be able to play in United States tournaments

The president of Thunder Bay's Port Arthur Nationals Little League organization is hopeful some baseball will be played this summer. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

One of Thunder Bay's Little League organizations remains hopeful players will take the field at some point this year, but things are currently "up in the air."

Danny Nucci, president of the Port Arthur Nationals, said in a normal season, teams would have begun practicing by now. However, with the Ontario-wide stay-at-home order still in effect, the Nationals organization is waiting for word from public health that they can play.

"As soon as they give us the go ahead, then we'll start playing," he said, adding players are currently able to register online.

The pandemic forced the Nationals organization — which runs a number of Little League divisions for different age groups, as well as several travel teams — to run a shortened season in 2020.

"What we did last year, same case scenario, registered everybody as soon as we had the green light to," Nucci said. "We had in-house meetings, organized teams, and then we got the green light to start practicing, but before then, the kids were given all their equipment."

"The coaches were chosen, the teams were chosen."

Play started later than normal, but the Nationals added some games on the schedule's back-end to make up for that, Nucci said.

"Last year we played into August and everybody was informed when they did the online registration," he said. "We didn't know what was going on, when we would get the go ahead."

"We also informed all the parents that, generally speaking, when the season would start, we might be playing into July and August," Nucci said. "We tried to make it a little bit more, say, parent-friendly, in respect to we didn't really schedule any practices or games on the weekends."

Nucci said player numbers were down a bit, due to concerns over the pandemic. In addition, leagues for the youngest players were cancelled, as it was difficult to manage physical distancing requirements.

"It was pretty tough to keep the four-year-olds away from another four year old," he said.

All teams were provided with hand sanitizer, and teams limited the sharing of bats between players. Each team also used their own baseballs when fielding, Nucci said.

One thing that will definitely be affected this season, no matter when it starts, is travel. The Nationals run several travel teams, known as the Lakers, which not only play in tournaments elsewhere in Canada, but travel to the United States for tournaments, as well.

Earlier this week, Little League International announced the Little League Baseball and Softball World Series events, which are being held in the United States, will be open to United States teams only.

The two top teams from each of the eight United States regional tournaments will qualify, Little League International stated.

"Where appropriate, international teams may continue to play based upon their country's guidelines and restrictions," the organization stated. "Little League International anticipates continuing with its plans to expand the Little League Baseball World series to 20 teams and the Little League Softball World Series to 12 teams in 2022."

The Lakers were unable to travel to the United States for tournaments in 2020, as well, Nucci said, with the Lakers teams instead playing each other.

"We tried to keep them busy in that respect, along with practices and anything else that they would want to do," Nucci said of the Lakers teams. "But as for traveling and playing any kind of organized ball outside of Thunder Bay, we were not able to do that."