Rec baseball got me through COVID


Photo courtesy of Finn Martin

Baseball is the perfect pandemic sport because players can remain socially distanced with relative ease.

By Felix Leonhardt

I dug my cleats into the batter’s box once again, flinching as a bit of dust snuck into my eye. There were two strikes in the count, and I refused to allow a third. As the pitcher delivered his next pitch, I guessed that it would be a fastball — and I was correct. The barrel of my bat connected with the ball, and I sent it flying high over the centerfielder’s head. A couple seconds later I was proudly standing on third base with a triple. The bench exploded in cheers. 

I don’t play for Whitman’s baseball team. Late this summer, a friend reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in forming a recreational team for more casual games. So, wanting an excuse to see friends, get some exercise and make sure that my life wasn’t left baseball-less, I said yes. 

Every Saturday, our team of 12 hosted a practice, and every Sunday, we played seven innings against the only other team in the league. There were no tryouts — we welcomed teammates regardless of experience — and most of the players on both teams were juniors or seniors at Whitman or other MCPS high schools.  This weekend routine helped me overcome the isolation of online school, and it reminded me how much I enjoy playing baseball.

Baseball is the perfect pandemic sport because players can remain socially distanced with relative ease. We wore masks at all times, stayed six feet apart on the bench, and minimized equipment sharing. The team was a true melting pot, consisting of both former Whitman baseball players like myself and people who had never picked up a bat. But athletic ability or previous experience was not important. We played for laughs, exercise, socializing and fun, not wins. 

Since kindergarten, baseball games have consumed my fall weekends. But in this unique year, the fall season meant more than an opportunity to pick up a bat; the team provided the social interaction that I had been missing since the pandemic started. Though I was able to see my friends before baseball, we quickly ran out of ideas for outdoor, COVID-safe activities. The structured social time of rec baseball soon became a fun way to catch up with friends while also staying active. 

The team also allowed me to socialize with people whom I didn’t already know, something I hadn’t done since before the pandemic. Without in-person classes and extracurriculars, I’d been spending the majority of free time with my longtime friends as opposed to branching out towards new ones. I love hanging out with my closest friends — many of whom I’ve known since elementary school — but I also appreciate reaching out to other people. By the end of the season, I’d come to value the companionship of new teammates as much as the strengthened relationships with older ones.

Although I no longer play baseball at the same level or intensity as I did during previous years, my rec team has reminded me that sports are not always about winning or losing — enjoying yourself is just as important. 

For my freshman year, I was the backup catcher on the Whitman JV baseball team. It was baseball at a higher level than I’d ever played before: my teammates threw harder and ran faster than in my previous leagues. The team required a lot of adjusting to, and always kept me on my toes.  Now, two years later, rec baseball has made me realize that games aren’t nearly as fun when everyone is throwing their hardest. It’s a shared love of the game, and a willingness to try one’s best, even while embracing one’s imperfections, that makes sports worth playing. 

Rec baseball got me through the tumultuous fall, but it provided me with so much more than a fun way to kill time; I caught up with old pals, made new friends and rediscovered my love for the sport. So, this spring, whether the pandemic is still going on or not, I plan on playing rec baseball. And maybe instead of a triple, I’ll hit one out of the park.