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Local PONY baseball leagues hope to resume play this season

A closure notice is posted on the north gate at TeWinkle Athletic Complex in Costa Mesa on Saturday. Local PONY baseball leagues are sidelined by the coronavirus and are unsure if they will be able to resume play this season.
A closure notice is posted on the north gate at TeWinkle Athletic Complex in Costa Mesa on Saturday. Local PONY baseball leagues are sidelined by the coronavirus and are unsure if they will be able to resume play this season.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

America’s favorite pastime is also a rite of passage between father and son.

For many kids, their first partner in playing catch is their father.

As the sports shutdown continues in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, that bonding has become more important than ever as stay-at-home orders have changed our way of life.

Gerald Werner, the president of Fountain Valley PONY Baseball, has been taking his son to the park to play catch. It is one thing that he can do as his son, Carter, yearns to see his friends again.

“My younger son plays right now, and he asks me when he’s going to be able to get back on the field and play,” Werner said. “I tell him, ‘Soon.’ That’s all I can tell him.”

Fountain Valley PONY is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.

PONY had recommended a suspension of all league activities until at least May 1. With that date drawing near, another statement was issued on Friday, asking local leagues to exercise an abundance of caution as reopening is taken into consideration.

Reopening is not up to the leagues exclusively, though. PONY can provide guidelines, but strict measures taken at the state and local level to mitigate the coronavirus would also have to be relaxed.

For some leagues, cities would also have to reissue field permits before play could resume.

“The cities have the ability to do whatever they want to do,” Costa Mesa PONY President Jack Morales said. “So we’re very dependent upon the city of Costa Mesa Parks and Rec to make the decision as to when they will release our permits again, because they’ve all been canceled.”

Costa Mesa PONY’s fields are at the TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex and Luke Davis Field.

Morales said that the coronavirus has made the league’s board members and volunteers distraught because serving the kids of the community is their passion.

“We’re very used to being out there and making kids smile and trying to have a positive impact on their lives,” Morales added. “We feel that youth sports provides a building block in a young person’s life that they might be able to build on down the road as they grow older and remember those words or life lessons that we try to teach through a sport.

“That’s really the biggest missing link for us is not being able to do our part in the lives of the kids that we serve.”

Jared Eisenberg is in his first year as president of the Newport Harbor Baseball Assn. He was excited about the opportunity to further build a sense of community within the league.

“We were just doing some different things as far as having food trucks at Bob Henry on Saturdays, and having the little kids play at the same fields as the big kids,” Eisenberg said.

PONY has waived its 12-game requirement for leagues to participate in summer tournaments.

Local leagues were limited to approximately two weeks of playing time before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted play. With an abbreviated season appearing to be the best-case scenario, many leagues will choose to take care of their own first.

“Our plan is, if we are able to come back and play at all in the summer, that we’ll just skip All-Stars completely,” said Eisenberg, noting that the spring season would be the focus. “If there’s any baseball that we can play from the spring season, that would be fantastic. That would be a big win.”

With students not returning to the classroom this school year, a return to the playing field does not seem eminent. If and when the Newport Beach Baseball Assn. is allowed to resume play, league President Eric Steingruebner said he would also place an emphasis on the recreational league season.

“We want the rec season to take priority,” Steingruebner said. “If we can get a season started and finish it in June, if that means that we’re going to miss out on the PONY tournament, then so be it, because we want to focus on our local kids getting the opportunity to play baseball.”

Closure notices, one in English and the other in Spanish, are posted on the north gate at TeWinkle Athletic Complex in Costa Mesa on Saturday. Local PONY baseball leagues are sidelined by the coronavirus and are unsure if they will be able to resume play at all this season.
Closure notices, one in English and the other in Spanish, are posted on the north gate at TeWinkle Athletic Complex in Costa Mesa on Saturday. Local PONY baseball leagues are sidelined by the coronavirus and are unsure if they will be able to resume play at all this season.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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