With the Cape Cod Baseball League being canceled, and Little League Baseball canceling its regional tournaments and the Little League World Series, the likelihood of a New England Collegiate Baseball League season continues to seemingly dwindle.
Though true, the NECBL is still set to have a 2020 season for now, and one of the most pertinent aspects to the league is the willingness of families in the communities to host players throughout the summer.
It is no different in Keene, as the Swamp Bats have been a staple in the community since the team was founded in 1997.
“One of the things that has always made Keene special is the family hosts,” Swamp Bats President Kevin Watterson said. “They really set the tone for the quality of life for our players in this community. I think when a player leaves here, he probably remembers more of his 10 weeks with the family than he does his batting average, record or something like that. Host families are the glue to this franchise.”
With the uncertainties that the coronavirus outbreak brings, one big question surrounding the league is whether host families would be willing to participate this season.
One of the host families asked whether the players would be receiving testing for COVID-19, according to Watterson. At the time that was not under consideration, but now it has become a topic of discussion, according to Watterson.
There is no limit to the number of players a family can host, but the number is almost always one or two players per house, according to Watterson.
Players planning to play this summer are willing to come to Keene and to have a season. The collegiate season was shortened, so the desire to get back on the diamond is certainly a burning one, according to Watterson.
Also, with the MLB Draft being cut to five rounds, the potential of some players being drafted takes a hit as there will only be 150 players picked this year, an 87.5-percent reduction in players selected. The collegiate players are not only going up against each other in terms of the draft process as they are also up against high school and international players.
Ed Drew and his wife, Diane, have been a host family for almost a decade and this year are still preparing for a season.
“We’ll deal with the COVID issues and we’ll do the laundry, cleaning, hand-washing and all the basic things that come with it,” Ed Drew said. “And I’m sure if the players get a chance to come to town they’re going to go above and beyond to keep themselves and everybody else safe.”
The Drews are not the only ones gearing up to host this season.
“We have a lot of families that have raised their hands and said ‘count us in,’ ” Watterson said. “I will say that this time of year, the beginning of May is the time when we push hardest to fulfill our family hosts. We’ve kind of held off on that for maybe a week or so to try and get a sense of where the season is going.”
Where the season is going is the lingering question and there could be a yes or no answer as soon as Friday night. Yet there still may not be enough host families, despite the help being offered so far.
“Do we have a lot of family hosts? Yes, we do. Do we have enough yet? No, we don’t,” Watterson said. “It’s absolutely logical that a family would say, ‘Is this the right year to take a player?’ But for the most part, the answer has been yes.”
Beyond just being a host family, the Drews, like others in the community, have welcomed the Swamp Bats to being part of a customary summer, something that may change this year.
“Keene is pretty used to having the Swamp Bats,” Ed Drew said. “It’s a great, inexpensive night on the town to go watch some great baseball, to go see your neighbors and other people from Keene. It is a great networking opportunity for kids, for the programs that the Swamp Bats bring to town, it is good for business. It really brings the city together. So that would be missed.”