For the first time since early March, the White Rock Tritons laced up their cleats and stared across the baseball diamond at a team that wasn’t their own.
On Tuesday night at South Surrey Athletic Park, the B.C. Premier Baseball League team under-18 squad – as well as their U15 bantam-division counterparts – played an exhibition game against the Langley Blaze, bringing an end to a six-week process where all they were allowed to do under COVID-19 return-to-play protocols was practice in small groups or play intra-squad games amongst themselves.
The Tritons’ junior team (U16) will play its first game, also against Langley, tonight (Wednesday).
“It’s nice – we’ve graduated from intra-squads to alumni games to opponents,” said Tritons U18 head coach Kyle Dhanani, explaining how the team got from its first official post-shutdown practice on June 23 to where it stands now.
In a short update posted to its website on July 24, Baseball BC announced that inter-club play “is now permitted.”
“Essentially, Baseball BC kind of got fed up. We’d heard that softball was playing games, slo-pitch had been having some games, too, so (Baseball BC) contacted ViaSport, and (came up with ) a plan to create bubbles.
“Our bubble is us, Langley and Abbotsford (Cardinals), and we have an eight-game schedule (for senior, junior and bantam teams).”
(According to White Rock Renegades softball association president Gregg Timm, local softball teams have not, in fact, started playing games against teams from other cities. However, he told Peace Arch News he was hopeful that they would be able to in the next few weeks.)
Against Langley Tuesday, Dhanani said the senior squad was without eight regulars due to families being out of town or having other commitments, though he expected that “we’ll run it back with a full roster” for a rematch scheduled for Thursday night.
And while the undermanned squad was in tough against the Blaze, Dhanani said the results were not the most important thing.
“We were just happy to get out there and show off some of the progress we’ve made this offseason,” he said.
“Most of our guys made some good adjustments by the end of the game, so it was good to see.”
Despite the months-long gap between game action, there wasn’t much noticeable rust for his players to shake off, Dhanani said. The team had been ramping back up into game shape over the last few weeks, and batters spent the last three weeks facing off against the team’s own pitchers.
“We’ve been pretty good at increasing our game-like situations… so in that aspect, we were pretty good. We were pretty clean on the infield, too – the defence was pretty strong,” he said.
Since resuming on-field play in late June, the Tritons – as well as other baseball teams throughout the province – have adhered to a number of new health-and-safety protocols, and Dhanani says those remain in place, although the in-game experience remains the same now that they’ve expanded to playing games.
“We don’t have any modified rules. You just try to keep your distance from each other as much as possible when you’re not playing, and we sanitize the ball as much as we can,” he explained.
“There aren’t any high-fives and we don’t shake hands after the game anymore, either.”
As well, the game was played with no official umpires, in order to limit the number of people involved in the game. Instead, coaches from each team called balls and strikes, which was a good compromise in order to play, although not without its drawbacks.
“When you have an umpire, there’s somebody for a coach to yell at, so I didn’t have anyone to yell at this time,” Dhanani joked.
Dhanani said the new eight-game mini-season schedule – which was hastily organized over the B.C. Day long weekend – will be condensed, with games ending by the middle of this month. White Rock will play four games this weekend, two each on Saturday and Sunday.
A two-week break would follow – allowing players and families to prepare for school and other priorities – and then, if the COVID-19 situation continues to allow it, the Tritons would begin their usual fall training and tournament schedule in early September.
If conditions improve and the province avoids a second wave of outbreaks, Dhanani said he’s heard the team’s cohort bubbles may be allowed to expand to five teams, which would open up possibilities for tournaments.
Already, the three Tritons squads are scheduled for two tournaments each, including an abridged version of the Best of the West event in Kamloops, which earlier this year was pushed from its usual time slot in June.
“Things change day by day, so if a tournament happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Dhanani said.
“We’re just going to play as many games as we can until Aug. 16, and see what happens from there.”