Play Ball: Villages softball leagues can resume

Clint Harris, of the Village of Lake Deaton, leads a yin yoga class in 2017 at Moyer Recreation Center. Harris is among instructors helping with the virtual yoga classes.

Softball is set to make its return to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.

The Villages Recreation and Parks announced Thursday the resumption of all recreation softball leagues across the community, with summer league play allowed to begin Monday and player evaluations resuming Tuesday.

In accordance with the department’s measured approach to reopening recreational amenities and resuming activities, participants will adhere to a variety of guidelines and mandates implemented for both safety and continued social distancing.

“We’re super-excited to get started again,” said Doug Goslee, who serves as president on the board of directors for Division 1, which will begin its season Wednesday. “We’re ready to go, and I think everybody feels pretty good. We’ve had our players coming to practices, and you can just tell that everyone’s excited to get out and play again.”

Guidelines include players trying to maintain at least 6 feet from one another, while players are also encouraged to bring their own bats and utilize disposable gloves and masks during play. Dugouts and bleachers will not be accessible, nor will shared water fountains and coolers be made available.

“We feel comfortable and we’re ready to go,” said Goslee, of the Village of Lake Deaton. “The whole world has changed, and we understand that. We know we’ve got to be careful. We know there’s no more high-fives or prayer huddles after the games, but we’re ready to adapt to this new environment.

“Everything’s changed, but we can change with it.”

The summer season was originally set to begin May 11 and run through Aug. 15, with player drafts held back in April. League scheduling is expected to be adjusted to be completed within the new time frame.

“It is an understatement to say our players have been anxious to start the season,” said Division 3 Commissioner Gil Kettelhut, which begins play Monday. 

“We’ve been ready to start since Day 1, and we’re very appreciative The Villages is letting us play.”

Teams have already enjoyed access to fields for practices each of the last three weeks, helping bring back a sense of normalcy for players.

“It’s been good to be back on the field again,” said Steve Rapps, of the Village of Buttonwood, who will suit up for the Cardinals in Division 1. “I’ve been playing here since 2011 — three seasons a year — so these guys are like family when you’re around them year-round. We’ve all missed being out there and playing ball.”

With three weeks of practices and a heightened excitement for the return of play, players and league members are expecting a highly-competitive summer campaign.

“It’s going to be so competitive out there,” said Division 1 Vice President Hank Culley, of the Village of Gilchrist. “Once we put those pants on and it’s time to play ball, you’re going to see it again — it’s going to be competitive. But we’re also all close friends and it’s one big family, and we’re going to be glad to be back with it.”