Since March 11, sports seasons across a global landscape have been postponed or canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Even now, as sports begin a gradual return to society, major precautions have been put in place over the past seven months so that athletics can tentatively resume.
In central Florida, the Florida Collegiate Summer League – a tradition in the Sunshine State since 2003 – was one of the few associations that decided to continue to play throughout the ongoing effects of COVID-19.
Bobby Head, an infielder for Austin Peay baseball, was able to join the Florida League prior to its resumption in late June. Head claimed that the abrupt postponement of the Governors’ regular season led him to play throughout the pandemic.
“I just remember sitting on the couch that Thursday with my roommates, checking the TV and just – we were all in shock, we couldn’t believe it,” The infielder said. “We were just getting ready to get going as a team. It was crazy. No one saw it coming, I didn’t think that they were going to cancel the games, so it was really crazy, crazy times.
“I thought all of our players were really upset,” Head added. “We were really excited about conference [play] and we felt good about going into it, so it was tough for all of us.”
Head was originally slated to play during the summer in the Alaska league alongside fellow Govs, Gino Avros and Skyler Luna. After the league made its decision to shutter for the season, Head contacted Winter Garden Squeeze head coach Terry Abbott in attempts to be a late addition to the team’s roster.
Abbot was impressed enough by the Winter Garden native to thrust him into the everyday starting third basemen job. In 22 games, the infielder batted .270 with one homerun and seven runs batted in.
Head, who now has two seasons of experience with the Squeeze, acknowledged that the most substantial difference in the Florida League this season was the talent. With other league’s deciding against playing as intended, the game’s top prospects fled to central Florida for the chance to play. 11 of the league’s first and second-team selections from this year were affiliated with power-five collegiate organizations.
Despite the effects of COVID-19 raging in Orange County, the infielder admitted to being more driven by his willingness to play rather than the 35,000 confirmed cases within the region alone.
“We tried our best to social distance,” He said. “It gets tough sometimes, like when you’re standing next to the first baseman. It was a little tough. You could think about it in the back of your head, but really I just thought about going out there and playing everyday. If I showed symptoms, I would go get tested. I just thought about baseball and was happy to be out there.”
Precautions were in place for the league to remain functional throughout the situation: according to Head, players were required to test negative prior to participating in their first game. In addition, masks were mandated within team dugouts as well as the enactment of daily temperature checks for all players and staff involved.
Now back in Clarksville, with socially distanced team practices underway, the Squeeze alumnus hopes for a successful spring season within the Bat Govs organization.
“I thought there was a lot of energy, everyone was out there bouncing around, hitting balls, we were doing it all,” Head said. “It really felt like everyone was happy to be back…doing the normal thing. Even though I know we have to do a lot of stuff to stay safe, the energy was there and it felt good to be back on that field.”
With the summer season behind him, Head believes his second year with Winter Garden taught him an overall appreciation inside the game of baseball.
“I think [this summer] has made me look at things a lot differently,” He added. “Just the safety precautions and all that COVID has done, it makes me look at [everything] a whole lot different.
“You can’t take every practice and every game for granted. You never know when your season can end, just like it did last year. That really made me look at things differently and that’s what [this summer] has taught me.”