For first time since inception nearly 70 years ago, Summer Playground Association program nixed for this summer, due to COVID-19 worries. Also, board, officials of local, college-level summer baseball team pull plug on pending 19th season

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — For the first time since the early 1950s, summer in Chillicothe in 2020 will not include Summer Playground Association youth baseball and softball play.


Additionally, for the first time since 2002, neither will there be college-level Chillicothe Mudcats baseball this summer.


Due to complications arising from the novel coronavirus pandemic, long-time SPA co-directors Stephanie and Stan Baldwin and Chillicothe director of parks and recreation Josh Norris concluded Friday (May 1) that attempting to conduct the May and June youth sports program this year – even on a delayed basis – is not feasible.


"The 2020 SPA baseball and softball summer season has been cancelled, due to COVID-19 restrictions,” the Baldwins shared both with local media and on Facebook Friday of the decision that will keep Daryl Danner Memorial Park – multi-fields home to the SPA program since the park’s development in the early 1990s – largely silent during evening hours this May and June.


“While this was not an easy decision, it is felt the decision is in the best interest of players, coaches, umpires and spectators.”


Then, on Monday morning, came word from Mudcats organization officials that the myriad complications arising from the pandemic had convinced the team’s board of directors, which met late last week, to pull the plug on what was to have been the Fish’s 19th season after consulting online with representatives of other MINK League teams Sunday.


Of the many aspects of the situation working against trying to have a 2020 team, W.L. “Butch” Shaffer III, Mudcats board president, cited a couple.


“The majority of the Mudcats board felt it is in the best interests of the community, the host families, the players, and the staff,” he commented to the C-T early Monday afternoon.


“After listening to the MINK League (team) GMs (general managers) and presidents, no one had a plan as to how to protect everyone involved. All of them could only talk about the problems in trying to play this year.


“After an hour of discussion, (Chillicothe GM Doug Doughty and I) told the MINK League that Chillicothe would not be playing this year.” 


The league – of which the Mudcats are and have been members since their 2002 inception – has opted now to further delay any decision on a late-starting, potentially-shortened season until late May. However, the Chillicothe team board and officials felt there were too many obstacles to overcome and it had an obligation to give players who previously had agreed to be on the 2020 squad clarity as much time as possible to adjust their summer plans.


“Many of the host families are uncomfortable having young men from all over the county coming into their homes this summer,” Shaffer said. “It is also felt that it is not fair to the community to bring players into the community after the great care that everyone has done to keep the city safe.


“It is also difficult to ask sponsors for money, considering the fact that the past two months have not been good for their businesses.”


The cancellations were far from unexpected, given current uncertainty about continuing risk of transmission of COVID-19 and various mitigation techniques aimed at slowing or halting the spread of the virulent disease which, as of May 1, had resulted in more than 1 million Americans being diagnosed with the illness, likely significantly more carrying the germ asymptomatically and thus being at risk of spreading it unknowingly, and over 60,000 Americans having died either of the disease and through its complication of pre-existing health vulnerabilities.


While Chillicothe and, more broadly, Livingston County have experienced only very little documented incidence of COVID-19, non-availability of widespread testing and analysis of test results creates a “gray area” of uncertainty about the “bug’s” presence locally on the part of government officials, businesses, and the populace.


While there was a general desire on the part of SPA officials and the community to continue the program’s tradition uninterrupted, those concerns might have resulted in further erosion in the number of participating players as young players and their families considered whether the benefits of such group activities – either as participants or fans – was worth the risk.


Against the backdrop of that uncertainty – and the probability of needing to extensively manage participation and attendance of both Summer Playground Association baseball/softball players and fans in an attempt to lower the risk of exposure and transmission of the virus, analysis of the various factors – including the logistics of significantly-belated registration of players, recruitment of coaches, organization of teams, and hiring of umpires and concession stand personnel – by the SPA advisory board, its veteran program directors, and city officials led to the presumed-likely decision to shutter the program this summer.


“Feel free to contact directors Stan (660-247-0502) or Stephanie Baldwin (660-247-0501) or Josh Norris (660-646-4424) with questions or concerns," the Facebook announcement concluded.