MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Baseball is back in Virginia, a day after Minor League Baseball cancelled its season due to COVID-19.
The Martinsville Mustangs of the Coastal Plain League played their first game on Thursday against the High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms. Fans were allowed to come inside Hooker Park and watch.
“We’re the only game in town,” said Mustangs assistant general manager Connor Akeman. “It’s something the community can rally around, and we really need that right now.”
Local minor league teams affiliated with Major League Baseball, such as the Salem Red Sox, Pulaski Yankees and Danville Braves, effectively cancelled their seasons on Wednesday. The Coastal Plain League is able to play on since it is a collegiate league independent from the MLB.
“With our Mid-Atlantic division rival, the Peninsula Pilots out of Virginia Beach, we are the only baseball in the state of Virginia,” Akeman said.
Mustangs head coach Jake Marinelli believes the season will be good for fans, but even better for the players who had their college seasons cut short.
“They’re fresh, they’re ready to go, and I think we’re going to give a better product than we’ve had in the past,” Marinelli said.
While fans are allowed to watch, there are changes at the ballpark to keep them socially distanced. Fans have to take a temperature check and sign a waiver before coming inside, and every other row in the stadium is covered in caution tape.
The players have also made changes. There is a cap on the number of players allowed in each dugout, and Marinelli says pitchers and position players are staying separate to reduce any possible viral spreading.
“It’s definitely a little bit different, but as far as in between the lines, it’s all the same,” Marinelli said.