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Local baseball and softball sides maintaining team mentality as road to return remains unclear

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Belfast Northstars pitcher Melvin Woods

Belfast Northstars pitcher Melvin Woods

Belfast Northstars pitcher Melvin Woods

While the major sports continue their discussions over how to return to play once lockdown has been suitably lifted, recreational sport is plotting its own course back to the field.

But where high profile sports can begin rescheduling and planning their returns if they simply get the green light to play, several lower profile sports face additional problems to getting back in action.

Two such sports are baseball and softball, with Belfast's three sides already looking at the potential hurdles they need to overcome to simply be able to assemble a team let alone play matches.

As one of Northern Ireland's least played sports, managing to find enough players for three teams - the Northstars and Buccaneers in baseball and the Angels in softball - is tough enough before throwing in coronavirus-related issues.

Unlike in football, GAA and rugby, the teams can't delve into their Academy structures for players if some don't want to take the risk to play, and the incentive of getting paid doesn't exist in Northern Irish baseball either.

So even though Baseball Ireland have provided a pathway back to competitive games on July 25, that's by no means a date the Northstars, Buccaneers or Angels have marked on their calendars.

"The safety of the players is paramount," insists Neil Boyd, who is manager of all three teams. "At the end of the day it's up to them whether we can go back and play again, and it's something we would never dream of forcing upon them. 

"Say two of those players have an underlying medical condition, that's them gone. One of them, their partner works in the medical industry. They're gone. Another one or two of them have an elderly relative they have to look after. There's another couple people gone.

"All of a sudden your team looks very thin even though the league and the governments have said we can play. And we play a lot of our games in Dublin, so for us to get there, that's four or five of us packed into a car for a couple of hours both ways. So there's logistical issues we have to look at as well."

In the meantime, the teams have been doing the usual Zoom chats and keeping in touch with bi-weekly quizzes. But it doesn't make up for what was set to be a big season for Northern Irish baseball.

The Northstars, the premier baseball side, were due to move into the Irish A Division, with the Buccaneers operating as a development side for players to push through.

"There were a lot of guys on the Stars who were excited about playing at the A level, and we got six or seven new players in who were all showing great enthusiasm," adds Boyd.

"For softball we got a good glut of new players too. That's something we're conscious of as well in terms of keeping them involved because retention of players in our sport is paramount.

"Unfortunately this all kicked off a week before our first outdoor training session, which was horrible timing. The guys want to play but we want to make sure it's done safely with as minimal risk to themselves and their immediate family."

Belfast Telegraph