Summer baseball a little different for area players

Cooper Cochran fires a pitch during a game for the Vipers, a Huntsville-based travel baseball team. Cochran is one of several local players who are participating in travel ball this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the 2020 high school baseball season was canceled in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, local players weren’t sure when they would be able to play again.

Many of them participate in travel baseball and softball leagues during the summer, but at the time, it was in doubt whether those teams would be able to play.

Fortunately, baseball and softball are back this summer, and local players are enjoying playing again, even though things are a little different than usual.

“It’s awesome getting to play again,” Athens pitcher and rising junior Cooper Cochran said. “It feels just like normal to get to play ball. Everybody was devastated after school season ended, but we’re just ready to play again, no matter what we have to do.”

Cochran plays for the Vipers, a travel team based out of Huntsville. The team has played three tournaments so far this season: one in Panama City, Florida; one in Hoover; and one in Nashville, Tennessee.

Cochran said each tournament has handled the COVID-19 crisis differently, depending on state and local regulations. The tournament in Nashville handed out masks to players at the front gate and sprayed down the benches and equipment between games.

Players didn’t have to wear masks on the field but were encouraged to wear them in the dugout and when not playing. Cochran said many people wore masks on the dugout, and he saw one player even wearing a mask when on the field playing.

The tournament in Hoover also required masks to be worn by players unless on the field in a game, while the Florida tournament didn’t have as many restrictions.

“Florida has really opened back up, and Tennessee, too,” Cochran said. “Alabama is taking it a little slower and are in the early stages of opening back up.”

Cochran’s teammate at Athens, catcher Tucker Stockman, plays with Easley Baseball Club in Memphis, Tennessee.

His team’s season was delayed a bit, but they have played in some tournaments already as well.

“Probably the biggest difference is we’re not allowed to shake hands at the end of a game as usual,” Stockman said. “A tournament we had in Memphis recently, we would normally have pool play games to get seeded for elimination games, but instead, we didn’t play any elimination games after pool play. It was just a round robin tournament. That was a lot different than usual.”

Stockman said while players have been allowed in the dugouts, each player has to bring his own water, as water coolers are not allowed in order to prevent the players from drinking from the same container.

Stockman said he was relieved to be able to play baseball again after the high school season was canceled.

“I basically missed all but about a fourth of my sophomore season of school ball, and then I didn’t even know if we’d get to play summer ball,” he said. “About a week before our first exhibition game was scheduled, we still didn’t know. We were able to play that, and we’ve been going week by week since then. It’s been really exciting to be able to get back out there and play. It’s what I love doing.”

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