Opportunity and player safety are central themes of the Independent College Baseball League which begins its season Monday.
The league was organized to get guys on the field after the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League and the Albany Twilight League canceled their 2020 seasons in late spring when the leveling off of the coronavirus in upstate New York had yet to occur.
Health and safety protocols will still be strictly adhered to as the Amsterdam Mohawks, Albany Athletics, Albany Dutch and Glens Falls Independents play out their 30-game schedules at Shuttleworth Park and East Field.
"Our objective is to offer baseball in the safest possible manner," Athletics coach and general manager Joe Altieri said. "We have a great group of four teams, and they've all communicated to their players, 'If this is what it takes, this is what we will do.'"
They'll be doing plenty to keep the players and their fans as safe as possible.
"It's not going to be a typical Mohawks game," Amsterdam president and general manager Brian Spagnola said of the numerous protocols that have been put in place. "We have to do it, and we have to be strict."
On the field only one umpire will be used and will be stationed behind the pitcher's mound, no spitting and high fives will be allowed, and some players will likely be wearing a facial covering of some kind. Players will often be seen digging into their back pockets for hand sanitizer, and will be required to utilize it after every time they touch the baseball — with an exception for pitchers and catchers. The sharing of equipment is prohibited.
"We're telling our guys, 'Let's do the little things to keep everyone safe,'" Dutch head coach Nick Davey said
Players not in the game will be divided between the dugouts, bullpens and a reserved section of bleachers to ensure proper distancing. Most of the players have Capital Region ties, from a small group of teens just out of high school to many more with college experience to a few others who have completed their college careers.
"We had our weekly PGCBL meetings and my thought was, 'If [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo allows us, we're going to find a way,'" Spagnola said. "We saw a vision and we're executing it. We made a plan we think is as solid as it can be where we have good baseball with safety first."
The league will have 7-inning doubleheader matchups on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays -- with the exception of July 27 and Aug. 3, when the Athletics and Mohawks will play a single game each day to avoid four doubleheaders in one week and keep the schedule balanced. The league will run through Aug. 13, and no playoffs have been scheduled.
"It's not about the winning part so much," Davey said. "It's about going out to compete, have fun and let the process of development start over."
The recent high school graduates had their spring seasons called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, while most of the college athletes played only a handful of games at most before the remainder of their seasons were canceled.
"These guys have worked since little league to get to this level of baseball. They're at the top of their game, and it stops abruptly," Altieri said. "These players are grateful and excited to get back out there."
There will be some rust to knock off.
"We've got a serious group of players. They've been lifting weights, doing tee work and throwing bullpen sessions," Altieri said. "They've all done stuff, but they still need to get into game speed mode."
When the Mohawks host the Dutch Monday at 5 p.m. and the Independents host the Athletics at 5:30 p.m., and in games afterward, you can expect to see players shuffled in and out of lineups as their coaches divvy up playing time. Spagnola said a team already ahead in the bottom of the seventh inning could possibly bat one more time just to get some guys on both teams more game action.
"I've got 16 pitchers, and I plan to use all of them in the first two days," Davey said. "We'll progress from there."
Altieri believes there could be many low-scoring games early on.
"Pitching will dominate the league at first," Altieri said. "Batters haven't seen live pitching since March. I think the hitters will catch up."
Altieri's Athletics, who in the recent years enjoyed great success in the Twilight League, will have a different look than the other teams with about a dozen post-college players including star hurler Chris Salamida (Watervliet, Oneonta State). The Athletics roster will also include three sets of brothers in Connor Pingitore (Broadalbin-Perth, Alfred) and RJ Pingitore (Broadalbin-Perth, Southern Vermont), Brenden Harris (Guilderland, Cypress) and Hunter Harris (Guilderland, Cypress), and Ryan Lambert (Colonie, UAlbany) and Kyle Lambert (Colonie, Ithaca).
Davey's deep mound staff includes Albany Academy grad Ben Seiler (Siena) and Guilderland grad Nick Grabek (Fairfield), while Ballston Spa grad Luke Gold (Boston College) and Schalmont product Chris Hamilton (Stony Brook) should find themselves in the middle of his lineup. Gold anchored Ballston Spa's state title run in 2019.
"I think the kids are really looking forward to it," Davey said. "It's going to be like a Section II all-star game every day."
The Mohawks have homegrown local products in Amsterdam High School grads Dale Stanavich (Rutgers), Jeff Brennan (WPI) and Ben Rhodes (Cortland), as well as recent Shenendehowa grad Jake Reinisch (Wake Forest).
The Independents' roster has a father-son tandem in coach Steve St. Claire and outfielder Evan St. Claire (Whitehall, Siena).
"To do this was a no-brainer, as long as we did it safe," Davey said.
Players are allowed to have two guests attend games, and they are being asked to wear facial covering entering the fields and when walking around the facilities. A certified athletic trainer will be on hand at both fields to check player temperatures when they arrive to play.