Hays Larks manager Frank Leo is busy preparing for the 2020 season, a season unlike any other in the organization’s 74-year history.
Not only is the franchise playing in its third league in three years, but Larks officials have had to deal with the ever-changing state guidelines regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Hays will play host to the Colorado Springs Outlaws in nonleague action for the June 15 season opener. The players will report June 10 and the first practice will be the next day. In years past, the Larks usually were shorthanded to open the season, with some players still involved in collegiate postseason action. That won’t be the case this summer, with collegiate baseball canceled this spring due to the health crisis.
"We’re going to have everybody in at the same, going to get four practices in prior to playing," said Leo, who will begin his 38th season as the club’s manager. "The only downside … is they’re not going to be as game-ready as in the past, right off the college season."
With Kansas Phase 3 mass-gathering restrictions anticipated to still be in place, the Larks adjusted their schedule accordingly, opening the season about two weeks later than usual. Unlike Hays, the Colorado teams in the Rocky Mountain Baseball League do not draw a large number of fans, so they are able to start play earlier under that state’s guidelines. They will have two weeks of action before Hays’ first game.
"They’re going to have several games under their belts before we play them," Leo said.
On the field, Leo lost a few players for the summer due to the pandemic, then recently lost two outfielders, one due to injury and another who opted to stay in Texas to help out after a tornado ripped through his town. Leo has signed one replacement and he hopes to add another outfielder before the season starts.
Off the field, the Larks are making safety preparations at venerable Larks Park. Once the governor passed on reopening guidelines to the counties on Tuesday, Ellis County Health Services Director Jason Kennedy lifted all restrictions the next day.
"He’s basically given us his blessing, said use some caution, use some good sense," Leo said.
There will be sanitizing stations available for Larks fans and it will be ensured that bathrooms will be cleaned and stocked with supplies before every game. In addition, there will be signs at the park encouraging fans to social distance if that makes them feel more comfortable. Leo said if a person is not feeling well, don’t come to the park.
Leo said he was not taking the ongoing pandemic lightly, noting it is especially dangerous for people at risk; among those at risk would be older people and people with underlying health conditions.
But there will be Larks baseball this summer.
"I’m anxious to see what the crowds are going to be like," Leo said.