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After a solid year of “twiddling your thumbs” in front of a computer, Little Leaguer Nautus Van de Gryp spent Saturday morning with his teammates on the North Park Jedi, fielding grounders, running bases and diving to catch fly balls.
“I honestly thought, when am I ever going to get back to playing baseball?” the 13-year-old said. “It was a long time, just sitting there and waiting.”
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, ballfields and playgrounds across the county are opening back up. The baseball complex at Morley Field Saturday morning teemed with players and coaches from the North Park Little League. Parents lined the fences, shouting encouragement. The snack bar hasn’t opened yet but nobody was complaining.
“It’s like coming out a cave,” said Janna Ferraro, vice president of North Park Little League, which fields teams for boys and girls ages 4 through 15. “It has been such a rough year.”
A mother of two players, Ferraro is also the coach of the North Park Bulldogs in the 9- and 10-year-old division.
“Getting back out here, being able to see their friends again, watching them run around, my kids have never been more worn out and have never been more happy,” Ferraro said.
Like so many youth sports organizations, the North Park Little League shut down operations last March — just days after the season started. Registrations for the 2021 season opened back up in January at a sharply reduced price but Ferraro said league officials wondered how many parents would sign their kids up.
They were pleasantly surprised to register 330 players — fairly close to the 385 the league recorded in 2020.
“It can’t be understated how important it is for kids to get out and participate in a healthy diversion like baseball or other sports,” said Mark Hopkins, who pulled double-duty Saturday, umpiring in the morning and coaching his son’s team in the afternoon. “Also, the socialization, being with their peers, is so good for these kids.”
The reopening of outdoor activities comes as concerns grow about what kind of physical and psychological effects that stay-at-home orders have put on children in the past year.
A study conducted by the Aspen Institute and North Carolina State and Utah State reported that during the pandemic children, on average, spent about 6-1/2 fewer hours a week playing sports and 29 percent said they are no longer interested in playing sports.
At Morley Field, pandemic protocols remained in place.
“Essentially, we follow county guidelines,” Ferraro said.
Masks are required, social distancing is enforced and temperatures are taken of players, coaches and volunteers when they arrive. “And,” Ferraro said, “every team is given a big ole jug of sanitizer.
Rather than standing in the dugout, Jedi manager Lucas Handelsman coached his team near the diamond’s chain-link fence.
“We’re getting the rust off,” Handelsman said. “It feels great to get the kids back out here. My focus to just letting them have a good time.”
Before the season started, 13-year-old outfielder Devin Manns said he spent most of his time inside. “I wasn’t doing much, playing video games. It’s good to be outside, getting exercise.”
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