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Legion baseball cancelled; amateur baseball awaits fate

Levi Becker

FAIRMONT — Levi Becker and Matt Lytle probably feel like it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, game-winning run on third base, an 0-2 count and two outs.

Unfortunately, neither Becker can deliver the clutch hit from the batter’s box nor Lytle can record the final out from the pitcher’s mound when it comes to life on Herb Wolf Field during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The pair of former Fairmont High School baseball standouts returned home to join Cardinal head coach Don Waletich’s coaching staff earlier this spring only to be stranded 90 feet from home.

After just one week of practice, life on the diamond was suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Six weeks later, the Minnesota State High School League followed Governor Tim Walz’s statewide shutdown with an official cancellation of the entire prep spring sports seasons.

After going 0-for-1, the Fairmont American Legion Post 36 co-head baseball coaches took a delivery for a called strike on Saturday.

“(Abilene Christian University pitcher and former FHS standout) Spencer (Chirpich) told me around 2:30 p.m. Saturday that he read on Twitter that the Minnesota legion baseball season had been cancelled,” said Becker. “Sure enough, I received an official email from the legion baseball committee around 4 p.m. that day confirming the decision not to play this summer.”

Becker said he and the other American Legion Division I coaches throughout the state received a survey from the state office a couple of days prior to the official announcement.

“The survey asked if we were OK with starting the legion season after July 1 and I said, ‘OK by me,'” said Becker. “Then they asked if we were OK with having a regular season without playoffs. I told them, ‘No, the thing that motivates your players during the regular season is the chance to play in the district and state tournaments.'”

The Minnesota American Legion Baseball Committee commander Mark Dvorak said in a press release Saturday night that the decision came during a video conference early that morning. Dvorak said the committee received input from state and national legal advisers on the issue, and that statewide COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings would make playing baseball prohibitive.

“It was a difficult decision that affects many young people and their parents,” said Dvorak. “The American Legion is a major proponent of the sport of baseball and we hope to return even stronger in 2021.”

According to the Minnesota American Legion, baseball dates back to 1923 under the organization’s sponsorship, with the first state tournament being held in Mankato in 1926. It has been held every year since then, and Minnesota was among only three states with that continuous string of postseason tournaments.

“They (Minnesota baseball committee) made the decision out of concerns for the safety of the players, coaches and everyone else involved in the game, and it’s done,” said Lytle. “Now we have to move on and hopefully, be back on the field next summer.”

After going 0-for-2 from a coaching perspective, the next at-bat for Lytle and Becker centers around the summer amateur baseball season.

“I talked to the amateur association and they said we weren’t allowed to scrimmage or play up to May 18th due to the governor’s current shutdown,” said Becker, who’s a player/coach for the Fairmont Martins amateur baseball program. “I guess we’re allowed to practice as long as the city OKs using the field and we practice social distancing, but then I was notified on Friday that Fairmont High School doesn’t want anyone on campus up to July 1.”

Lytle, who’s one of the Martins’ ace pitchers, and Becker, however, are optimistic that amateur baseball will eventually be played this summer.

“Keep your fingers crossed (for good luck),” Becker said with a laugh.

Now Becker and Lytle can only hope they don’t go 0-for-3 on the diamond.

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