For a brief moment, it looked like baseball may not be played in the state this summer.
American Legion’s national organization and state organization officially canceled the seasons last month, leaving the West Fargo Patriots to get creative if they wanted to play summer ball.
The Patriots found a way to get back on the field this summer, playing under the Senior Babe Ruth organization instead of Legion baseball.
“We’re really thankful for Senior Babe Ruth for stepping up and allowing us to play under their umbrella,” Patriots head coach Jordan Rheault said. “They’re letting us do some awesome things. We’re pretty grateful for them for allowing us to play.”
The team, which went 24-18 last year, opened its season Monday, June 1, with a home game against Harrisburg, S.D.
If the season opener was any indication of how the rest of the summer season will go, the Patriots will put up a fight.
West Fargo rallied to score three runs with two outs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 6-6 and force extra innings, which helped the Patriots clinch a 7-6 walk-off win over Harrisburg.
The Patriots held tryouts May 15-17 and had their first practice May 19. It wasn’t until last week that the small-group practices turned into team practices.
“It’s awesome. Obviously you coach for the athletes, so I’m excited for that,” Rheault said. “Their excitement throughout these first couple weeks of tryouts and practices has been really awesome because they're being really competitive right now, but still loose at the same time. They’re having fun, and I’m happy to see that after a few months of them really not being able to do much.”
For returning players, this season will look a bit different.
Players must stand 6 feet away from each other. Six players are limited in the dugout at one time. There will no longer be high-fives and hugs. Players are asked to bring their own water, helmets and bats.
No more than 250 fans can attend the games, according to state guidelines, and people are asked to still follow social distancing rules.
West Fargo has at least 45 games on its schedule, including trips to Nebraska, South Dakota and western North Dakota. But there won’t be any team bus trips in the near future.
Parents will drive the players to away games outside of a certain distance. They’ll also be staying with their parents in the hotels, at least through June, Rheault said. If CDC restrictions really loosen up, the program might look at reevaluating that.
“Our organization does a great job of whatever situation we’re put in, making the most out of it as long as we’re trying to keep everyone healthy,” Rheault said.
There won’t be a trek to the World Series or Regionals this year, either. West Fargo made it to the regional championship three years ago, and had its sights set on getting back there this year. Now, the Patriots are aiming for a state title.
“There’s a lot taken away, but at the same time there’s a state tournament,” Rheault said. “The ultimate team goal this year instead of going to the World Series is winning the state championship, which always is anyways because in order to advance you gotta do that first.”
The state tournament that was scheduled to be in Bismarck will most likely be moved to West Fargo Aug. 5-9.
The tournament trail is cut back this year, but Rheault is confident it’ll still be a memorable season.
“I think it’ll be a really special year from the standpoint that everyone's excitement level was maybe a tad bit higher this year,” he said. “Obviously coronavirus has thrown a huge wrench into society and made us adjust to so many different things, so I think it's going to be a special year in that regard.”