Swamp Bats

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

Last year’s Keene Swamp Bats players celebrate winning the championship against the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks

The New England Collegiate Baseball League announced Friday night that it has cancelled the 2020 summer season.

“This decision was reached after a careful and thoughtful review of the guidance from federal, state and local officials, the leadership of our host communities, and recommendations from the CDC and medical community,” the news release from the league reads. “The conclusion was that canceling the 2020 season was necessary for the health, safety and well-being of our players, coaches, umpires, volunteers, fans and host families.”

The NECBL’s board of directors, consisting of executives representing its 13 member teams and officers, decided on the decision.

Kevin Watterson, the president of the Keene Swamp Bats, was in attendance and had been holding out hope for the season, like many others. But eventually that hope just could not realistically turn to reality.

“It was a tough decision to shut down a league like this when we put in so much and so many are invested in it,” Watterson said. “Even though it’s the right decision on so many levels. It’s hard to come to terms with it.”

Locally, the Swamp Bats have been a staple in the community and were set to enter their first season under new manager Shaun McKenna, who had previous ties with the team as the hitting instructor and first base coach for Keene in 2004 and 2005 and then most recently as the associate head coach under Gary Calhoun.

“It’s one of those things where we’ve been waiting all day to hear about this and you’ve got to kind of think that all day long us coaches, we’re thinking this was the way they were going to go,” McKenna said. “It’s a big deal. The safety of everybody is the most important thing.”

The Swamp Bats ranked fourth in attendance last season with an average of 1,296 fans per game and swept Martha’s Vineyard to claim the Fay Vincent Sr. Cup. It was Keene’s fifth NECBL championship since being founded in 1997.

With no season this summer in Keene, it will unquestionably be a different feeling in a city that has been so welcoming to the players, their families and all involved with the Swamp Bats franchise.

But that does not mean Keene will not be ready to get back to its winning ways in 2021.

“We have a chance now to jump in and start working early on 2021,” Watterson said. “We still have a chance to be back-to-back champions. That’s the goal, and we’re going to get to work on it as soon as we get our heads around this decision.”

With other leagues also being canceled throughout the country, including the renowned Cape Cod League, it is a tough blow for collegiate baseball players looking to continue to hone their skills on the diamond.

“I’m upset for the kids, you’ve got to be upset for the kids and their development,” McKenna said. “I’m upset that the kids won’t be able to play baseball, period, whether it be here, in the Cape, in the Valley League or anywhere in the summer really. That’s what is upsetting.”