Major leaguers are working out in empty stadiums getting ready for an abbreviated baseball season that will start later this month.
Locally, baseball will be played Monday at Strenfel Memorial Field when the Poplar Bluff Mules host East Carter. The Mules will also play Wednesday at Cape Central and host the Tigers the following week before going to Sikeston a day later.
It doesn’t fully make up for the lost spring season area baseball teams suffered, but it’s something.
“With us being able to get out and do a little bit of stuff, the high school coaches in the area got together and, of course the administrations that allowed us to get some doubleheaders together,” said Poplar Bluff baseball coach Steve Edwards.
During a normal summer, coaches and athletes in Missouri are only allowed to spend 20 contact days for that sport. When the spring sports season was canceled, MSHSAA approved a suspension of that rule and to allow recently graduated seniors to be viewed as enrolled students through the summer.
The SEMO Conference put together a series of events recently to give those seniors one last chance to put on their school’s uniform and compete in baseball, track and field, girls soccer, boys tennis and golf.
Edwards and his fellow baseball coaches are extending it to the other players that missed out on a spring season.
“A lot of these guys are playing ball but getting a chance to get together as a team and complete a little bit, just to play a little bit as your high school team,” Edwards said.
The games will start at 5 p.m. and fans are invited to watch. No admission will be charged and there will likely be no concessions available, Edwards said.
There have been 25 players at open practices this summer, Edwards said, with about 85% of the team playing some kind of summer baseball.
Every summer area baseball players scatter to different teams and leagues to play.
“They want to try to stay together and play a little bit,” Edwards said.
That’s hard to do under the current rules and consider that Poplar Bluff no longer supports an American League team.
In 1994, the local team won the American Legion national title but it’s been over a decade since Poplar Bluff fielded a team.
“You don’t have a lot of days that you can really get together and practice and play,” Edwards said. “…The MSHSAA guidelines restrict a lot of that.”
It’s been 430 days and counting since the Mules last played baseball at home.
“We have, in my opinion, one of the best facilities in Southeast Missouri, if not the best,” Edwards said. “We like to use it. We like to see baseball in the summertime.”
McLane Park has been bustling with baseball over the weekends this summer, hosting tournaments for various age group travel teams. Having a team for high school or college players — be it Senior Legion, Babe Ruth or like the Capahas — could be good for area high school programs and the city itself.
For now, the Mules will get a few doubleheaders in this summer in hopes of working toward a full season next spring.
Brian Rosener is the sports editor for the Daily American Republic.