The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every part of life at this point. For sports fans especially, the past few weeks have been tough.
Practically every sports league has either canceled its 2020 season or temporarily suspended operations. For baseball fans, this means no college baseball this spring and an indefinite amount of time until MLB Opening Day.
Now the effects have hit a little closer to home. The Valley Baseball League announced on Thursday that it was canceling its 2020 season. The VBL is the first summer collegiate league to announce its cancellation, but likely won't be the last.
The Valley League is one of the most historic baseball leagues in the country, with its roots in the Shenandoah Valley dating back to 1897. It became an NCAA-sanctioned league in 1961 and has produced more than 1,000 professional baseball players throughout its history.
The league is an important part of life in the Valley, and a summer without it will be a difficult one to endure. Summer league baseball is influential to many of the people involved, principally, the players.
Summer leagues provide college baseball players with an opportunity to get noticed by professional scouts. Every year at the VBL All-Star game, there are numerous scouts from MLB teams in attendance to see the best that the league has to offer.
Each summer for the past few years, the Valley League has participated in the Southern Collegiate Prospect Showcase, a tournament in North Carolina against other summer leagues from around the southeastern United States. Like the All-Star Game, plenty of professional scouts are in attendance for this event.
With their NCAA season canceled and now their summer season in jeopardy as well, many athletes are losing out on the opportunity to make a case for themselves in front of MLB scouts. Players who may be flying under the radar but were poised to have a breakout spring or summer are now without the chance. Hundreds of athletes from around the country may be missing their shot to get noticed, and in turn missing out on their chance to play professional baseball.
But the players aren't the only ones affected. Summer leagues are a great training ground for those looking to work in baseball. I spent three seasons woking in summer leagues, including last year as the broadcaster for the Harrisonburg Turks in the VBL. Those years provided me with valuable experience that helped me land my current job.
The Turks also employed interns from JMU, Roanoke College and Virginia Tech last season to do everything from social media to writing to scoreboard operation.
Many of my classmates at Virginia Tech have spent time broadcasting in summer leagues. I have friends who have worked everywhere from the Northwoods League the Coastal Plain League. I know aspiring broadcasters who have spent time in the Cape Cod League developing their skills.
Without a season this year, these students will miss out on valuable experiences that you can only get from spending a summer working for a baseball team. Internships teach you far more about the industry than classes will, and a ballpark is the best place to learn. These internships are significant to college students and can make the difference in who gets a job after graduation.
Summer leagues are also important to the towns and cities where they are located. The ballpark is a community gathering place where friends and family can come for an inexpensive, fun night out during the summer.
Local businesses sponsor the teams and leagues. The teams highlight local nonprofits, charities and organizations throughout the season, hosting theme nights at the ballpark. Area celebrities come to the park to throw out the first pitch and perform the national anthem.
With the current state of the world and all the social distancing recommendations from the government, we need community interaction more than ever. Once the restrictions are lifted, a night at the ballpark will feel greater than ever, taking in the sights and sounds of the game, socializing with friends, and supporting local businesses. If we can't have those experiences this year, we'll miss out on some of the greatest parts of summer.
More than anything, the relationships built in summer league baseball will stand the test of time. I've talked to former players and coaches who still keep in touch with teammates from 20 or more years ago. Spending a summer in a collegiate baseball league is one of the most fun, rewarding experience for a player, coach or intern.
No one wants to see the summer baseball season canceled all around, but we all have an obligation to do what we can to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. The better we do now, the higher chance there is that we will have baseball back this summer.
Matthew Atkins, Journalist and Baseball fan.