BRISTOL - With the little league softball regional tournament already underway and the baseball tournament to begin next weekend, some players are already getting accustomed to having minimal fans at A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center in Bristol.
While many people might not understand why the tournament is not allowing spectators who are not associated with any of the teams to attend the games, some of whom have taken to social media to express this, the event brings in teams from all over the northeast and many of the athletes are not yet old enough to qualify for the covid-19 vaccine, which is currently available to anyone aged 12 or older.
Corey Wright, operations managing director for the east and central regions of Little League International, accepts that many local fans are frustrated they cannot go to the games, but wants to remind people that little league’s first priority is to the teams in the tournament.
“We’re still in the middle of the pandemic,” Wright said. “The important thing to realize is that this age group of kids coming to us, the majority of them aren’t eligible for the vaccination yet. So we’re trying to give them the experience that they missed out on last year. We surveyed a lot of parents and players across the country and the results we got from those Zoom interviews is they wanted us to do everything we could to give the kids a tournament experience that wasn’t offered last year.”
Wright said none of the teams participating in the tournaments offered any objection to the protocols, which include requiring vaccination for all staff and volunteers, wearing masks whenever kids are around and keeping teams in pods when they are not playing.
While this event is obviously outdoors and just about every major and minor league baseball facility in the country is open in some capacity, dealing with a tournament for young kids is a different approach than that of a professional event.
“The little league regional tournaments here, both softball and baseball, are a huge part of the Bristol community, we very much look forward to it every year,” Wright said. “Unfortunately, after the pandemic, and still dealing with the pandemic, and the cancelation of our tournament and the world series last year for the first time ever, for us to be able to offer this tournament this year we have to do everything in our power to keep the kids’ safety first.”
Each of the teams received 250 passes so the players' family and friends can attend the tournaments, but it was important to limit the number of total spectators to decrease the risk.
After losing last year’s tournament, having a tournament this year, under any circumstances, was most important.
“I read some of the comments on the [social media] post and a lot of people just don’t understand that we would love to have everybody attend, we just have to get through the pandemic,” Wright said. “With the new variant that’s out there, we’re trying to be as transparent as we can. We’re testing the kids, we’re testing the managers and coaches upon intake and we’re doing our part to make sure the teams are kept as safe as possible. If that means that we have to limit the exposure to Bristol public or others, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Anyone still interested in viewing the tournament from home can catch all of the softball tournament with an ESPN+ subscription as well as the qualifying rounds of the baseball tournament before the quarterfinals and later round move to the ESPN family of cable networks.
“It’s a different atmosphere this year and we have to get through it,” Wright said. “We look forward to 2022 when we can open back up and the majority of kids are vaccinated and we won’t have to do all these protocols that we have to do now.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.