LEXINGTON, S.C. (WIS) - Baseball returns to the Midlands this summer.
On July 1, the Lexington County Stadium opens its gates to fans to enjoy Blowfish baseball.
The return to the diamond does bring excitement.
“We’re getting back to baseball,” said Blowfish owner Bill Shanahan. “The great game of baseball.”
The 2020 Lexington County Blowfish players are anxious for Opening Day.
“The biggest thing is guys want to get out there and play,” said head coach Matt Padgett.
A Lexington native, Padgett looks forward to his first season running the show. But it comes under unique circumstances.
The players arrive in two weeks for camp ahead of the 2020 season in the Coastal Plain League. Team interaction on the field will be different, with coaches and players spread out.
“There are the things we’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks,” Padgett explained. “Not being able to high-five. No sunflower seeds. All these things are in the guidelines.”
Playing amid a pandemic will change even how one manages the game.
Traditional signs from third base that require face touching -- gone. Even visits to the mound will look different, with spacing between the coach, catcher and pitcher.
These are only a couple of safety precautions under consideration for the league ahead of the first pitch at the park.
“Health and safety as a coach is my priority,” Padgett stressed.
Competition in the CPL this summer will feel different on the field and look different in the stands with limited fans.
“I assure you, Bill will not have baseball here if it’s not safe and under every single guideline,” Padgett said.
The Lexington County Baseball Stadium holds more than 2,300 people inside the park. On Opening Day, expect the park to be at less than half the capacity to adhere to social distancing guidelines. A proposed range between 500 to 1,000 fans allowed to enter is currently on the table.
Blowfish team owner Bill Shanahan stresses safety first when it comes to fan attendance at the park.
“We are doing everything we can for them, as well as our players,” he said.
And, player safety starts at home, with player host families.
“Everyone is very cautious, but are willing to take the steps necessary to house these players,” Shanahan said.
The teams that will compete in the CPL hail from Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina.
“It’s a wait and see game,” Shanahan explained. “What are the rules and regulations that are being set that are going to determine how many teams will be playing baseball this summer.”
Currently, the CPL is working to implement a safety game-plan for COVID-19 to keep fans, players and staff healthy. The Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission oversees the park and will review those guidelines.
“(We’re) open to additional suggestions and recommendations,” Shanahan said. “Always be something new we are looking at it to make sure, if we can make it that much safer, we are going to do that.”
The league and the Blowfish still need to devise steps in case a player tests positive. A plan is in the works.
“I’m not going to force this,” Shanahan said. “The game is great, but people’s safety is most important.”
Padgett senses great excitement from the players ahead of their arrival for training camp. It’s enthusiasm he knows he must harness, so players don’t overexert themselves right away as they run onto the field.
“Guys are going to come out wide open from the beginning trying to do it all,” Padgett said. “I’d probably do it as a player. You got to pull back on the reigns a little bit.”
To better manage innings played, CPL expanded rosters to 40 players. There’s a group of Blowfish ready to hear the roars from the stands, no matter the size of the crowd.
If the gates can safely stay open for fans, it provides a chance to reconnect with America’s national pastime.
“A chance for people to enjoy something that maybe we took for granted in the past,” Padgett said.