HTL season canceled

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Rob Reischel
Ross Hellenbrand and Middleton’s Home Talent League team will have to wait to play until 2021./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Brandon Hellenbrand, who manages Middleton’s Home Talent League team, had a hunch this was coming.

The same goes for Sauk Prairie skipper Lucas Koenig.

As cases from the COVID-19 pandemic have risen in recent weeks, the challenges mounted for HTL teams to play their season. On June 26, the league’s executive board voted to call off the season, which was supposed to begin this weekend.

While teams across the league were disappointed, no one was arguing with the decision.

“I do agree with the Board's decision to cancel the 2020 season,” Hellenbrand said. “Over the last week or so, watching the number of cases grow and hearing from other teams that have played exhibition games and the difficulty they've had with following the guidelines, I don't think there was any way this season could have been played safely.”

Koenig, who sits on the HTL’s Board, felt the same way.

“In the past two weeks, three teams have acknowledged that players have either tested positive or been quarantined,” Koenig said. “With this in mind it is hard to envision teams completing a season schedule without significant disruptions.”

The league, which typically begins in early May, had pushed its start date back twice. In recent weeks, though, a handful of obstacles made surging ahead virtually impossible.

Among them:

• The HTL Board instituted a “3 Strike” rule, meaning if there were three COVID cases throughout the league the season would be canceled. Last week, a third case popped up, ending any hope of a season.

“I think it was inevitable that there wouldn't be a 2020 season,” Hellenbrand said. “We had a good team discussion last week, and as much as guys wanted to play, including myself, when we started to look at the bigger picture on how this virus could spread so easily and affect family members and work and everything else, I think we all came the realization that this season just wasn't going to be possible and wasn't the best idea to try and push it.”

• The league features 41 teams from across Southern and Southwest Wisconsin. Before the league decided to cancel the season, six teams had already said they wouldn’t play in 2020.

• Dane County remains in Phase 2 of the Badger Bounce Back plan instituted by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Until the county enters Phase 3, no baseball fields inside Dane County can be used.

Considering 20 of the league’s 41 teams are from Dane County — and couldn't play home games — scheduling became a nightmare. In addition, many high schools in and out of the county remain closed due to local COVID-19 guidelines.

• Several umpires were hesitant to work games following the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

“With these infections, we also need to be concerned for our players’ families and our fans,” Koenig said. “I think the guidelines established by the league and our ballpark could have kept people safe, but there is always risk.”

Teams can continue practicing and have exhibition games, if they choose. But for the first time in the league’s 91-year history, it won’t have an official season.

“We are going to continue to practice once a week so we can get our baseball fix in,” Hellenbrand said. “But taking a risk playing another team at this point just isn't worth it.”

Koenig agreed, and already had one eye on the future.

“We have been able to practice and we look forward to playing baseball together in this manner over the next month or so,” he said. “Although the 2020 season did not go as planned, there is no doubt the excitement for 2021 will be high.”  

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