By Paul Svoboda
Although he’s a minor baseball coach, Chris Lisle wasn’t playing much pitch-and-catch with his players this spring when opening day was beckoning for the 2020 EOBA season.
Instead, he was playing the waiting game.
“Yes, just like everybody else,” said the president of the Quinte Royals Baseball Association. “We had a full summer planned, but we’re waiting like everybody else right now.”
The Covid-19 pandemic had thrown a nasty curveball into the Royals’ 2020 season, along with every other organization in the EOBA. Minor sports across the country were on hold as lockdowns were put in place in an attempt to contain the spread of Covid-19, leading to isolation and personal-distancing procedures. And, no sports.
“The provincial and municipal governments will determine when we can start and we obviously trust them,” said Lisle. “We’ve already cancelled two tournaments in June but we’re hanging on to July for now.”
Lisle is hopeful the gradual reopening of the economy, and sports in Ontario, would include minor baseball by the middle of the summer. But, when he spoke to Total Sports Quinte, all bets were off until further notice.
“Hey, we want to get back for sure, but it has to be safe,” said Lisle. “The last thing we would want is to have a child or a parent or a player or a coach get sick.”
So, until the Royals and the rest of their EOBA counterparts get the green light to resume some form of competitive baseball, Lisle and his supporters will wait it out. He’s not even sure what a restart will look like, if and when it arrives this year.
“It will be interesting to see,” said Lisle. “We’ve already had discussions on how many balls would be put in play for a game. Spacing of players. The preparation and sanitization of the equipment. That kind of thing. Things like this will have to be the major topics of consideration.”
That said, Lisle was hopeful minor baseball might be allowed back on the diamond sooner than later. He said the nature of the game might lend itself to an earlier restart than some other sports.
“Hey, we’re not exactly tackling each other out there,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lisle and the rest of the Royals organization look hopefully to the future. In 2019, a major highlight was an all-Ontario 13U A OBA championship captured by an upstart Royals peewee squad that simply refused to lose. Lisle still isn’t tired of talking about that.
“Yes, we had a wicked little peewee team win Provincials last year,” said Lisle. “We beat the South Bend Bears from Ottawa 10-0 in the deciding game in Trenton. It was a fantastic game.”
The victory was especially sweet, said Lisle, since the locals “were slaughtered” 16-6 in their first encounter with South Bend. Coached by Mark Abrams, the peewee Royals quickly regained their composure and completed the Labour Day Weekend championship tournament with six wins in seven games and Quinte’s first-ever OBA crown in its 20-year history.
After the tournament, Abrams spoke highly of his troops during an interview with Quinte Broadcasting.
“As you can imagine, we had some heads hanging after that first loss,” said Abrams. “But we told the kids to be proud. We had a little blip. To be a champion, we told them you sometimes had to reassess your situation. And that’s exactly what they did. They just decided to bear down and they went out and got it.
“The boys played hard and it all came together at the right time.”
Lisle said the provincial peewee title is a testament to the talent of local baseball players and coaches available in the Quinte region, along with a solid group of committed volunteers without whom the association would be unable to operate.
“The Royals have been around for 20 years now and we run baseball for kids from eight to 18,” said Lisle. “We’re pretty much a Highway 401 league, like the local minor hockey teams. Our teams play about 24 games a season, plus tournaments and the EOBA championships which decide who represents at the OBA championships on Labour Day Weekend.”
Although the Royals play out of centres much smaller than most others in the EOBA, they are a truly regional club, drawing players from six municipalities in the area.
“We’re small compared to most of the other larger centres we play but we have a very committed group,” said Lisle. “We’re pretty competitive. We’ve been known to surprise the odd team. We have some really awesome people helping us do this. A lot of good kids have gone through the system and, now, some of them are coming back to help coach.
“We’d hate to ever see this drop off due to a lack of volunteers. They are the key.”
That won’t happen, as long as Lisle and his supporters have anything to say about it.
As for what might be next on the horizon for the Royals organization, Lisle said there has been some discussion about a junior or even senior team in the future. The last senior team to play locally in the EOBA were the Belleville Labatt Nationals in the 1990s.
“There’s been some talk about a junior team in recent years as our numbers have improved,” said Lisle. “We have kids who are coming out of the system at 18 and asking where they can play next. We’re on the right track.”
Commitment at the playing and coaching levels would be imperative to any prospective plans about forming a junior team or resurrecting a senior club in Belleville and the Quinte region, said Lisle. Along with budgetary concerns.
Right now, he just hopes the traditional sounds of baseball can soon be heard again in diamonds around the area.
“Hey, on any given day during our season you can see kids playing baseball in Tyendinaga, Wellington, Belleville,” said Lisle. “Kids have a lot of choice these days when it comes to playing sports and we hope to continue to offer them a good experience with the Royals.”
Photos by Amy Deroche/DerocheSportsPhotography.com
QUINTE ROYALS CHAMPIONSHIP LINEUP
The roster of the 2019 OBA champion Quinte Royals 13U baseball team included Ripken Shaver, Deacon Ellis, Connor Sherman, Matthew McGuinness, Ty McCambridge, Josh Mathew, Eric Abrams, Jared Langdon, Caleb Martin, Kaiden Insley, Nolan Donnelly and Carson Campbell. On the coaching staff were Mark Abrams, Tony McCambridge, Dave Cleary and Nicole Martin (manager).