Local Little Leagues holding onto hope amid COVID-19 crisis

A Huntington Valley Little League field sits empty on Thursday in Huntington Beach. Little League International has recommended a suspension of all league activities through at least May 11.
A Huntington Valley Little League field sits empty on Thursday in Huntington Beach. Little League International has recommended a suspension of all league activities through at least May 11.

Since the coronavirus ushered in a time of quarantine, Jerry Marchbank says that he has driven past Huntington Valley Little League, and he reports the fields to be in great condition.

There is just one thing missing.

“They’re missing one major component of a great baseball facility,” Marchbank said. “[That] is having kids out there playing.”

For the past three seasons, Marchbank has managed a team of Huntington Valley All-Stars that have never lost a postseason tournament. The group has won back-to-back state championships as 10-year-old and 11-year-old All-Stars.

As 12-year-olds, they would have an opportunity to play their way into the Little League World Series.

“This group of boys has been dedicated to sort of chasing this dream of going to Williamsport, and they haven’t given up on it,” Marchbank said. “They’re still working. I’m seeing the videos of them playing catch and doing their tee work in the yard, and virtual hitting lessons, and at-home workouts.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to be ready, and just hoping we get a chance.”

Huntington Valley Little League 11-and-under All-Stars
The Huntington Valley Little League 11-and-under All-Stars pose for a photo after beating Chula Vista Eastlake 7-6 in the state tournament final on July 28, 2019.
(Courtesy of Jamie Kruis)

Marchbank used a baseball analogy, likening the complications from the coronavirus pandemic to an 0-2 count that his team, and all of Little League baseball, is trying to fight through to keep the dream alive.

For a game that teaches failure, the potential loss of an entire season and their only chance to go to the Little League World Series would be a tough way for Marchbank’s players to learn about losing in the game of baseball for the first time.

“We’re still really hopeful, but I did have the conversation with my son a few nights ago about the possibility that All-Stars just wasn’t going to happen this year,” Marchbank said. “The look of disappointment on his face was unmistakable.

“I certainly am not excited to have to have that conversation with 12 other families. I remain optimistic, and I think we’re hoping we can get a chance.”

Little League International has recommended a suspension of all league activities through at least May 11.

Costa Mesa American Little League president Brian Rottschafer viewed that benchmark as “wildly optimistic” given measures that have been taken by the state and local level of government.

He is still hopeful that the league will be able to play as many games as possible for the kids.

The issue of health and safety is close to home for Rottschafer. His wife, Donna, works on a COVID-19 unit as a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange.

Rottschafer said that no discussions had taken place yet regarding the Mayor’s Cup, an annual best-of-three series between Costa Mesa American Little League and Costa Mesa National Little League.

Costa Mesa National Little League's Peyton Thomas, center, is mobbed by teammates at the plate after she hit a walk-off home run to beat Costa Mesa American Little League in the Mayor's Cup on July 11, 2019.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff photographer)

Beyond the games themselves, additional league activities have been impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19. One such activity is Little League Day.

Huntington Valley Little League president Tim Stone said that all of District 62 was among those expected to attend the Little League Day game at Angel Stadium on May 17, featuring the Oakland Athletics against the Angels.

Leagues buy the tickets up front. Unable to sell tickets to a game that may not happen due to the coronavirus, many leagues are now hoping that the game will be canceled and the tickets refunded to avoid significant financial losses.

“What’s financially impactful is we buy those tickets early, and then we have to sell them to our league,” Stone said. “As of right now, I’m sitting on almost $20,000 of tickets that we have not sold because how do you sell it to a parent right now when we don’t even have a game that we can go to.

“I don’t know how baseball does it because you’re sitting three inches away from somebody. That’s not six feet of social distancing, so as of right now, the Angels have not said they are refunding our money unless they don’t get to play.”

Fountain Valley Little League president Stuart Yager echoed Stone’s sentiments, saying at least half of his league’s parents do not plan on attending the game if it happens.

Yager is certainly hoping that the Little League tournaments happen this year, though.

“We just spent $20-grand on brand-new infields for Field 14 and 15,” Yager said. “We were awarded sections and Southern California state tournament for Little League. Who knows, hopefully they still happen.

“We’ll have all three. We’ll have district, then sections, then state.”

The Ocean View Little League has delayed its season until May 11, and its Cal State Fullerton Titans Day event, which had been scheduled for March 22, was canceled.

On its website, Huntington West Little League says that its fields are closed until further notice.

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