Baseball academy owner sees a spike in interest as sports are in limbo

Updated: May. 19, 2020 at 8:15 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - As kids and parents across the Tennessee Valley get ready for this summer, one thing that is absent is summer sports, so far.

It’s anyone’s guess when sports will be played again. Baseball has been shutdown since the middle of March, most youth leagues have been cancelled already but travel baseball teams play nearly year round.

Rickie Diehl is the owner of Viper Baseball Academy, a staple in the North Alabama baseball community for more than 20 years now.

VBA has 24 teams with kids ages 7 to 18. Diehl said they have a full schedule of tournaments this summer but are in a holding pattern right now, until Governor Ivey gives the all clear for youth sports to resume.

“It's been that way since the very beginning,” he said. “You sit there and you wait and you wait for what the governors of each state are allowing and we have to follow those guidelines.”

Diehl said many of his players haven't had any competition since the high school baseball season was shut down in March. He knows if they do get to play this summer, the first couple games could be rough.

“We’re pretty prepared that the first few events they’re going to play could be ugly," he said.

One thing that is picking back up for VBA is the summer workouts. Diehl said they started those on Monday after Gov. Ivey loosened the safer at home order.

“We’re going to be as careful as we can be to protect not only our students but our instructors, just going with what’s put in front of us right now," Diehl said.

He said right now he has at least double the kids he usually has signed up for summer workouts. He said this could be because parents don’t want their son to lose a step because of the cancelled spring baseball season.

When it comes to summer workouts at the VBA facility, Diehl said they’re taking the virus seriously.

Parents are not allowed to come in and watch, they keep a 6 foot distance when possible, pitchers only use one ball and everything is sanitized between lessons.

Diehl said now that they have restarted parents and players are getting excited, but there is still some hesitation.

“All that is done with a thought of apprehension and I expressed to parents, we’re going to do everything we can do to keep your son safe,” he said. “Everybody’s ready to go but we have to do it right.”

Diehl said when they do get to play games things are going to look a lot different. He said there will be no coach and umpire meetings, players will be spaced out six feet and some even outside the dugout, no handshakes and he’s not even sure if parents will be able to watch from the bleachers.

No matter what baseball looks like, Diehl knows what the main focus is.

“The most important thing that we can do is make sure that we do our part, that we don’t have a case and we don’t add to the numbers that are already here because again, what’s bigger?" he asked. "Solving and beating this virus or baseball? There’s no question what’s more important.”

As far as if they will play baseball this season, Diehl isn’t sure.

“Will that happen? I don’t know. I’ve got a funny feeling probably not."

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