As local boys hit the field for the USSSA Global World Series last month in Gulf Shores, Alabama, baseball wasn’t the only thing on their minds.
The pandemic didn’t just delay the start of youth baseball season, it changed the way players prepped for games and how they interacted during games, but they were still able to have fun.
One player said that despite the COVID-19 worry, they still had a good time and it didn’t even feel that different than other tournaments they’d participated in.
The boys who went to Gulf Shores, most of whom live in the Heights and surrounding neighborhoods, are part of two select teams, the Medina Warriors 11U AAA Navy and Medina Warriors 11U AA Black.
“It was our first tournament back, so the boys did have a little trouble getting back into the groove,” said coach Sergio Medina. “And it was the AA’s first time going.”
Medina said the teams began preparing for the World Series about three weeks before the tournament, which took place June 21-28. The facility they use to train is The Cage Houston, 5915 N. Main St., which is owned by Medina.
“The way we (trained) was divided the teams into groups where they could social distance in the facility, then divide in groups of two per trainer, 6-8 feet apart,” he said. “They would work largely individually rather than together.”
During training, Medina mentioned everyone was extra cautious and that parents weren’t even allowed in the facility. During simulated games, players had to wear face coverings and they couldn’t high-five.
The latter restriction was the most abnormal, according to Medina.
“Sometimes the kids didn’t understand because they’re around each other and high-fiving is so normal in baseball,” he said.
Before going to Gulf Shores, Medina laid down strict rules to help keep everyone safe. Usually on out-of-state trips, the families would visit the local attractions, but Medina said no one was allowed to. If he found out someone had gone to a restaurant to dine in, for example, the player wouldn’t have been allowed to play.
“It was kind of fun because we got to play baseball,” said Juan Carlos Jimenez Jr. of Medina Warriors Navy. “But it wasn’t really that fun because we couldn’t just talk to each other without using a mask.”
Because of the focus on off-the-field precautions, Jimenez said the trip could have been more enjoyable for him and his young teammates. But the priority was playing baseball, and that mission was accomplished.
“I did that especially because we didn’t know the protocols of the other teams or how seriously they were taking them,” Medina said.
Even with COVID-19 on the players’ minds, Medina said they were just glad to be playing baseball again. However, he went on to explain that the pressure of it being their first time at the tournament and abiding by the protocols seemed to throw the Black team off its game.
On the flip side, the Navy team responded with more ease and just went out on the field and had fun.
Medina’s protocols appear to have paid off in the end as no coach, parent or player has tested positive for COVID-19 since traveling to Gulf Shores.