Under the shadow of Knobley Mountain in the North, and New Creek and Green Mountain in the South, the hills of Mineral County are set to ring again with the two favorite words of summer, PLAY BALL!

By Chapin Jewell
Tribune Correspondent
Under the shadow of Knobley Mountain in the North, and New Creek and Green Mountain in the South, the hills of Mineral County are set to ring again with the two favorite words of summer, PLAY BALL!
In a close but affirmative vote, the Mineral County Little League (formerly Bi-State) Board voted to hold their 2019 summer season on Thursday night. The decision was announced via the League’s Facebook page with the following statement:
“The Mineral County Little League board voted tonight and decided we are going to play this season! Practices can start June 8 and games start on June 22. The season will last through July 31! Guidelines we must follow to keep everyone safe will be handed out at first practices. Your coaches will be contacting you soon! Let’s get ready to play some ball!”
Make no mistake about it, while the show will indeed go on, safety will indeed remain the primary focus. Under Governor Justice’s reopening plan, low-impact sports, of which baseball is one, are allowed to have games with limited spectators, provided stated guidelines are followed to mitigate the exposure to players, coaches, fans and spectators.
Player protection guidelines include screening players for COVID-19 symptoms, having players wear protective personal equipment to the greatest extent possible when not engaged in play, keeping indoor facilities ventilated with open doors and windows, posting signs including social distancing recommendations, and cleaning common touchpoints with approved disinfectants.
“I’ve been staying in close contact with A. Jay Root at the Health Department and he’s been real good helping us and keeping us informed. If we run into something he has said his line is always open, just to call him and he’ll help us out,” Mineral County Little League president Zack Mellott explained.
According to Mellott, “Social distancing, the Governor hit on that, that’s the biggest thing. Fans have to stay six feet apart, immediately family can sit together but outside of that you have to stay six feet apart.”
“The one challenge that we have is they had it laid out to where you should put tape on the floor of the dugout, and make the kids stay in their little box. We thought maybe if you just allowed three in the dugout it would work better.  When you come off the field, the first three that are going to be hitting can stay in there, and the others can just go to their parents who will keep their helmet and their bat. That’s a lot more achievable, Mellott stated.
While there are certainly rules and guidelines to be followed, and they will be, the reality is that even the best laid plans may be adapted or changed as things progress.  It will be a work in progress. What is initially decided may need to change or be modified. One such area is with the location of the umpires.
“The umpires are allowed to be in their normal locations.  We did talk about maybe having the umpire call the game from behind the pitcher, and we may do that, but they are allowed to be in their normal places. If we do move them to behind the pitcher, people are going to have to be more understanding with them, as they won’t be able to see as good,” Mellott explained.
While things will certainly be different, this will mark the first official return to organized sports in Mineral County.  There has essentially been no live games in Mineral County since the Keyser/Frankfort basketball regional final on March 6.  
As such, the return of organized sports is highly anticipated.  So who exactly will this bring back onto the field?
“It’s all of Mineral County Little League, except that we won’t be able to offer the 13, 14, and 15 year olds. We had the teams but with everyone else around the area cancelling we had nobody for them to play. So basically, it’s going to be 4 to 12 year olds,” Mellott stated.
One change is that with many surrounding counties in West Virginia and Maryland cancelling their entire seasons, Mineral County Little League has agreed to accept players from those affected surrounding areas.
“Right now, we’re accepting out-of-area players, that’s allowed. I know there are Hampshire County kids who had their league cancelled, they want to play. It’s not that we necessarily want flooded with new players, but if any area kid wants to play, we’ll find them a place they can play,” Mellott stated.  
“We’ve got a few Cumberland kids coming over as well. I opened registration back up until June 14, so if there are kids that want to play, we’ll find them a place. We might not have a uniform for them on the 22nd, but we’ll make it work.”
In addition to giving other area kids a chance to play that have had their seasons cancelled, allowing participants from outside the usual League area will booster what is naturally going to be somewhat of a drop in numbers due to COVID-19 and its associated issues.
“We’ve lost some kids. But, I think with picking up a few from Hampshire and Cumberland, our numbers might be a little lower, but we should be close to our normal hours,” Mellott stated.  “We usually run 40 or so teams in our league, this year, we’ll probably be in the 30s. Everyone is reaching out, double-checking with the parents, so we’re going to get a firmer count soon so we can work on scheduling.”
The details will all be worked out and again it will no doubt be a work in progress. Everyone should certainly understand that participation will mean modifications and challenges but at least area kids can once again enjoy the sports they love.
“My thing is these kids have been stuck in the house all this time. The Governor is finally going to allow us to do something, I think we should do it. Somebody has got to start returning things to normal, somewhere, somehow.  We’re doing that,” Mellott stated.
Those wishing to sign up players for participation in Mineral County Little League can do so by visiting www.tshq.bluesombrero.com/mineralcountyllwv.