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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, May 28, 2020 2 years ago

Little Leagues cancel seasons, Squeeze still on

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Both Windermere Little League and Winter Garden Little League canceled their seasons, but the Winter Garden Squeeze will start the FCSL season next month.
by: Troy Herring Former Sports Editor

In the span of five days, the world of local youth baseball and softball came crashing down when both Windermere Little League and Winter Garden Little League announced they had shut down their respective seasons.

Windermere Little League was the first to cancel its season with a Facebook post Friday, May 15. The decision to cancel the season was difficult, but it was being done in the interest of safety and because of the uncertainty of when — and if — recreation sports will be cleared to play, the post said.

“The WLL Board of Directors has been monitoring the impacts of COVID-19,” league officials said in the post. “After pausing for the last two weeks to evaluate the current environment, possible playing options, steps we would need to implement to manage safety and solicit input from local government and health leaders, the WLL Board of Directors has made the decision to cancel the remainder of our Spring 2020 Regular Season.”

The call to end the season came just over two weeks after Little League canceled its World Series and Regionals for the first time in its history.

For Rex Smith, who coaches the majors softball team, it’s a tough blow for both the kids and coaches — the latter of whom tried their best to get the rest of the season in.

“It’s just so disappointing for the kids who were playing,” Smith said. “We tried so hard to make it work, but by the time the governor’s announcement came out, the seasons had ended — because they end in May. Then Little League International … canceled all the summer All-Star activities, and so really, they canceled everything that would have happened over the summer.”

Two days before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all restrictions on youth activities Friday, May 22, Winter Garden Little League followed suit by canceling its season.

In a Facebook post, the Winter Garden Little League Board of Directors noted the decision to cancel the season wasn’t easy, but it was the only logical choice.

“While all options were reviewed and considered, we found this to be the best for the overall health and safety of our players, their families and our volunteers,” league officials said in its post.

No matter where you turn, there’s a lot of disappointment all the way around with everything being officially over, said Adam Bates — who coaches baseball in the league.

“I was hoping the league would do something — let them play,” Bates said. “It’s important to play through your 12-year-old year. But then you get into family vacations, and what do you do when you show up and teams don’t have enough kids — people are in bad spots. There’s just so many moving parts to all of this.”

However, both Windermere Little League and Winter Garden Little League are exploring options for opportunities to play again in group settings.

 

SQUEEZE AWAIT NEW SEASON

While Little League is officially done, the Florida Collegiate Summer League is still on — though there will be some differences.

This season, the Winter Garden Squeeze — along with the league’s other teams — will start up a two-week preseason on June 15 before beginning a 30-game season the week of June 29.

Along with a jam-packed schedule, rosters have been expanded, and the league will be divided into two divisions. 

File photo

Division I is for elite players who were invited by the league, while Division II is open registration for players who are currently on a college roster, have been a committed 2020 high school senior or are attending a post-grad program with proven collegiate ability.

The biggest change is there will be no use of host families for players because to the possible costs associated with regular COVID-19 testing for both players and the host families.

Despite the changes, Bates — who serves as the general manager of the Squeeze — believes this season, the league may see some of the best baseball it has ever seen.

“We’re one of only a handful of leagues playing,” Bates said. “We’re getting some very talented, local kids (who) would go and play in some of the bigger leagues. … These kids are going to be amped up, because they didn’t get any innings during the spring.”

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Troy Herring was the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

See All Articles by Troy

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