What do you do if you’re a father of a 10-year-old son craving baseball during a pandemic?
If you’re a U.S. Senator, like Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, you convene a virtual roundtable to talk about it.
Thursday on his YouTube channel, Toomey led a 50-minute talk on returning youth sports, and particularly baseball and softball, to playing fields this summer.
Panelists included former Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Olympic softball legend Jennie Finch, Stanford University public health expert Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Major League Baseball's Baseball and Softball Development Executive Vice President and former Los Angeles Angels general manager Tony Reagins, and Little League Baseball President Stephen Keener.
“We haven’t had enough of a public conversation about the impact that prolonged lockdown is having on our kids,’’ Toomey said.
Most Pennsylvania youth baseball and softball leagues have postponed their seasons. A few have canceled.
The remaining games and seasons won’t begin at least until Gov. Tom Wolf declares Pennsylvania back to normal life and recreation, and that will only be happening on a county-by-county basis.
Toomey thinks the time is now.
“In much of the country, and very much in Pennsylvania, the curve of the rate of COVID-19 interventions … was very diminished compared to what we were afraid might happen,’’ he said.
“It’s also been obvious for weeks now that we aren’t going to overwhelm our hospitals, definitely not in Pennsylvania, and I don’t think anywhere else in the country.’’
Toomey said the decision to return to play should be data-based. Bhattacharya said he considers the data favorable. Both cited numbers that suggest the chance of healthy young people becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus is virtually nil.
Further, Bhattacharya said, "It's very unlikely that kids will pass the COVID-19 infection to their parents or to adults. It almost always runs the other direction.’’
He cited a study done on 12 to 15 percent of the population of Iceland, which sequenced the genome of every COVID-19 virus.
“What they look for is mutations in those genes of the virus,’’ he said. “From the mutation patterns you can tell who passed the virus to whom, in the statistical sense. What they concluded was that there was no evidence at all of any infections passed from kids to parents or other adults. Zero.’’
He added that, “If you can design appropriate safety protocols, youth baseball and youth softball are the absolute perfect place to start thinking about resuming sports.’’
The Little League World Series has been canceled, and Keener suggested that large-scale, high-profile youth sports events may not be workable this summer.
“We bring 150,000 unique people to (Williamsport) in the middle of August from all over the world,’’ he said. “We got direction from (state government), and really, it was, don’t do it. We can’t and we shouldn’t.’’
Most youth sports, however, are small-scale and low-profile.
"Why not be outdoors?’’ Rollins asked. “We wear masks, if we're around people. We understand social distancing, and the importance of PPE. But we don't want to stop living our lives.’’
There are practical issues.
The Donegal Rheems Softball League, the umbrella group of youth softball in Lancaster County, canceled its season last month. It includes more than 90 teams and 1,000 players.
The softball league’s baseball equivalent, the Lancaster County Youth Baseball League, hasn’t canceled, but the season is in indefinite suspension, awaiting word from Gov. Wolf.
Those leagues use mostly municipal fields. The Lancaster County Midget Baseball League, for high school-age players, depends on fields owned by school districts, and Pennsylvania schools are closed through June 30.
“We’re in a holding pattern until June 30,’’ the midget league’s president, Bill Weismandel, said Thursday.
“Once the schools open, then there’s another series of hurdles: umpires, families …’’
Weismandel said he watched Toomey’s roundtable.
“I’m glad to see someone at that level of government showing interest,’’ he said. “Maybe it’ll get something kick-started.’’