This story was updated at 7:08 p.m. on May 5, 2021, to correct the number of Montgomery County teams in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League
The Bethesda Big Train, Bethesda’s collegiate summer baseball team, announced on Wednesday that it will take the field this summer, one year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the season.
The Big Train is one of three Montgomery County teams that play in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League — a summer league with teams in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Last year, the league’s board of directors decided it would be too risky for teams to play during the pandemic, cancelling the season.
The Big Train submitted a detailed 27-page return-to-play plan to Montgomery County officials on April 28, explaining how games could be played safely and how fans could attend, but still adhere to social distancing and other COVID-19 rules.
The county approved the Big Train’s plan at around noon on Wednesday. The team sent out an email announcing the return to play about an hour later, founder and President Bruce Adams told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday.
The Bethesda Big Train’s season runs from June 5 through July 21.
Adams said that as recently as a few weeks ago, the team did not know if it could play this summer. But Adams said the county’s move toward a gradual phased-in reopened based on the percentage of residents who have been vaccinated led to the season being “moved from the uncertain to the inevitable.”
Under phase 2 of the reopening plan, with 60% of the population having received one dose, there would be no limit on the number of people at an outdoor gathering. The county is currently in phase 1 (at least 50% partially vaccinated), which caps the outdoor gathering limit at 100.
The Big Train will cap its attendance at 250 this season, which is one-third of Shirley Povich Field’s 750-seat capacity. Fans can sit in “pods” of 2, 3 or 4. Masks will be required except for when fans are actively eating or drinking in the stands, or eating or drinking in the picnic pavilion.
Adams said that to maintain six feet of distance between pods, the attendance must be capped at 250.
Other social distancing measures are in place, Adams said. He said that every other row will be roped off, and the three seats on each side of each group will be blocked off.
“It’s gonna be different out there. It’s not just gonna be a third of the capacity, but a hallmark of our plan is that we are separating the players and the coaches and the trainer from the fans and the staff and the volunteers,” he said.
Adams said the team plans to create two new gates to minimize crowding.
“We have two entrances. There’s a side entrance and then there’s the main entrance to Povich Field. But really, we need two entrance gates as people come in, so that there’s not a crowd of people at one entrance. And then you need an exit gate,” he said.
Two new gates will be cut in the chain link fence at Povich Field to socially distance the players. “Instead of a mob of 20 players in the dugout, there’s gonna be about 12,” Adams said. “And they are really just gonna be the players that are active in the game.”
Although fans will be back, on-field events such as autograph sessions and kids-run-the-bases events won’t return this year.
The Big Train is partnering with the Jim and Carol Trawick Foundation to honor 25 “community heroes” at each of the team’s 20 home games this year. The groups will be front-line workers such as nurses, first responders, doctors, teachers and others who played a key role in the community’s recovery from the pandemic, Adams said.
To help offset reduced ticket revenue and costs associated with retrofitting the stadium to comply with COVID-19 protocols, Community Radiology Associates has agreed to a $5,000 sponsorship, Adams said.
The next month will be dedicated to planning, sponsorship and other pre-season work that typically takes place over six months.
“Without fans and the ability to sell food, it’s hard to imagine how you sustain an operation like The Big Train. So, this [return to play] is absolutely huge,” he said.
Adams acknowledged that the atmosphere during games will be different in 2021, but he is optimistic.
“It will also be different from last year when nobody was out there and [there were] no games to be played. So frankly, we’re very excited to have the one-third capacity,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org