Pierson’s baseball team has been waiting for this.
The Whalers were crushed when they heard the New York State Public High School Athletic Association canceled the spring sports season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state semifinalists, now senior-laden, were looking forward to showing what another year could bring, hoping it would be a championship plaque. While those dreams will remain just that, the Town of Brookhaven has announced plans for an invitational tournament that could take place the beginning of July.
“It’s great knowing that we could potentially all play together one last time, especially for the seniors,” said senior right-handed pitcher Matt Hall, whose 83-pitch complete game secured Pierson’s place in the semifinals against Cooperstown last June. “This tournament could definitely show what kind of team we would’ve been this season. I really do believe that we would’ve made it back upstate.”
The 2020 Varsity Wood Bat Tournament is a way for the seven seniors, most of whom will not be competing at the next level, to come together one last time and bid their teammates and a baseball diamond farewell.
“I’m really excited,” Hall said. “Of course it will be fun to play with each other one last time, but we definitely want to stay competitive. Looking at the list of teams in the league, I saw a lot of big schools, but I’m confident in our guys.”
Brookhaven Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Ed Morris said there’d be a four-game guarantee for the tournament that could run July 8-12. The town is in the planning stages in anticipation of Long Island entering Phase 4 of the New York Forward reopening plan, which is when recreational activities can resume.
“We thought it would be nice to put together a tournament since a lot of kids missed the spring season,” Morris said, adding it will happen before Brookhaven starts its summer league for those ages 8 to 18. “We will be following all New York State protocol and safety measures. We’ve also implemented some of our own.”
This includes fans only being allowed in the outfield — dugouts will be expanded into where the bleachers are for the athletes to social distance — placing sanitizing stations will be in the dugouts, cleaning balls between innings, and umpires standing six feet behind home plate. There’s no postgame meetings, no handshaking, no spitting, no seeds, and no gum.
Pierson head coach Jonathan Schwartz said he was skeptical at first, but excited to get any kind of baseball-related email.
“I’m trying to balance the excitement and competitiveness with just being able to get back on the field with the kids again, and give them a chance to do something before they head off to do whatever they’re doing next,” he said. “I was a little surprised to get the amount of confirmations that I have already.”
That includes all seven seniors, but the coach is also looking forward to the younger guys getting the chance to learn from them.
“The younger kids will finally . . . see how they play the game and the effort they put in and how much it means to them. Hopefully it will have an impact on those guys for next year,” Schwartz said. “I’m curious to see how they play together, even though I have an idea. I think they’ll do really well.”
The head coach is also excited to get back out on the diamond.
“It’ll be nice. I certainly miss it,” he said. “I’m getting tired of working on my lawn and doing things around the house that I never thought I’d be doing. I was so excited to coach this team with this group of seniors that we won’t have next year.”
The only hurdle he saw, was that most of his athletes work. He told the town his team could only join if night games are on the schedule, and Brookhaven said it could make that happen.
“I’m really looking forward to giving the kids a chance to play again and have some competition,” Schwartz said. “It wouldn’t have been a just conclusion for them, so now, at least they get a little closure from their baseball careers.”
Although not a high school-sanctioned event, the current lineup of teams includes other East End favorites like Southampton, Mattituck, East Hampton, and Hampton Bays. There are plenty of other powerhouse teams in the mix, like Class AA champion Connetquot, Class AA runner-up Ward Melville, Class A champion Sayville, Commack, and Sachem East. Sal Mignano, the director of baseball for Brookhaven, said 30 teams have already registered. Others include Shoreham-Wading River, Newfield, Longwood, and Babylon, and there’s still time for schools to sign up.
“The Brookhaven Parks Department and Brookhaven Town Board have always been big advocates for recreational programs,” Morris said. “We’re excited to give these kids this opportunity, especially this year.”
Games will be played at the Eastport-South Manor Athletic Complex in Manorville, Moriches Sports Complex, Medford Athletic Complex, Diamond in the Pines in Coram, and the town’s newest field at Country Pointe Meadows at Yaphank.
Although unsure of the format, Hall is hoping to play the bigger schools in the tournament to prove the Whalers had what it took to make it back to the Class C state tournament. He’s already met a few teammates at the park to get back into the swing of things.
“I do want to see how we match up against those bigger schools, and I personally want to show that I can perform against bigger and better competition,” the senior said. “I think that many of them will overlook us, and I want to be able to show that we belong.”