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Valley Isle Little Leaguers return to fields with protocols in place

Central East Maui season underway, other District III leagues set to start soon

Yankees runner James Poling wears a mask at first base as the Dodgers’ Brocks Craig pitches in the first inning of a Kihei Little League Majors (11-12) game on July 9 at Dorvin Leis Field. Little League games are back on the Valley Isle, with Central East Maui already underway and other leagues set to start soon. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — The Central East Maui Little League, which sent the first Valley Isle team to the traditional Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., in 2019, is back in action for players 13 years old and below.

More than 500 players on 38 teams have found their way back to the fields in Central Maui this month in Tee Ball, Coach Pitch, Minors, Majors and Intermediate 50/70 divisions in the largest baseball organization in Maui County.

After the regular seasons at this age level were mostly finished before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the CEMLL got some practice with protocol procedures during the summer months with older divisions at the Junior and Senior levels.

Summer all-star tournaments at the district, state, region and World Series levels were all wiped out by the pandemic over the summer.

“Well, the county, they’ve have some bumps in the road and so they’ve added a lot more restrictions, a lot more paperwork, which is not a big deal, I don’t blame them,” CEMLL president Brandy Cajudoy said, adding that CEMLL teams have been practicing since Jan. 1 and playing games since Jan. 19. “This is really important for these kids’ mental health, so everybody’s doing their best to make it happen.”

The Yankees’ Cross Huey connects for a first-inning single during a Kihei Little League Majors (11-12) game on July 9. Kihei Little League is scheduled to start Minors and Majors on Feb. 20, and Tee Ball and Coach Pitch on March 20.

Cajudoy emphasized her organization had to be patient and ready to roll with situations that could change on a dime with county parks and recreation officials over use of venues around Central Maui — she said approximately 20 of 25 fields that the CEMLL usually uses have been made available by the county.

“There was a lot of delay because they still had to talk and figure things out on their side, what made sense for them,” Cajudoy said of the parks department, adding that tri-annual permit applications usually handed in by Oct. 1 had deadlines pushed back by the county until late November.

“We got everything in Thanksgiving Week and then we kind of found at the end of December that we could have it for January,” Cajudoy said, adding that instead of the usual three- or four-month permit they are now on a month-to-month basis — they recently received notice they are good for February.

“We have priority, we’re still going to have it each month if things go well,” she said. “They are only going to give it to us month to month. It’s because of the COVID and the numbers and what’s happening and if we have a breakout, they have the right to say, ‘Nope, next month we need to just chill.’ That’s just been hard to kind of say, ‘OK, am I going to have it next month? Should I plan everything? Can we keep going forward?’ “

Cajudoy acknowledged that “we have had some scares… So it’s not to say that it’s not going to happen, but our kids have been good. No one has gotten anything from those scares. And I have to commend my volunteer coaches — the reason why they haven’t gotten anything is because of hand sanitizing their hands when they get there, they’re taking their temperatures, they’re staying far away.”

Cajudoy said players can have their masks off when they are on the field playing, but must have them on in the dugout. They must re-sanitize hands every trip to the dugouts.

“Even our umpires have been really good about everything and it was because of Juniors and Seniors that they were able to test everything out,” Cajudoy said. “It was a small group that we were able to test out and because we were able to do that we’re a little more prepared for the 500 kids that we have now.

“We feel like it’s going pretty well and I give a lot of credit to the coaches who are staying on top of it and the team moms and the board this year. Last year, we had eight (on the board) and now we’re down to three. So it’s been a lot more work and it couldn’t happen without them.”

For games, teams are given 50 wristbands for their total party to keep the crowd — including coaches and players — to the county-mandated maximum of 100.

District III administrator Ernest Delima said Maui is in line to host the state Majors tournament after losing out on the event last summer due to COVID-19.

Delima added that West Maui Little League is set to have Tee Ball, Coach Pitch, Minors and Majors starting Feb. 15, while Maui Up Country Little League will have all of those divisions starting Feb. 13.

Kihei Little League will start Minors and Majors on Feb. 20, and Tee Ball and Coach Pitch will start on March 20.

Lanai and Molokai Little Leagues will most likely wait until summertime to play, Delima said.

“All of the Maui-based leagues are in a position to get started,” Delima said. “For some of them it will be a different experience because normally they don’t start that early, but they have an opportunity to do so, so it creates some positive opportunities for them to do so, but it’s challenging. It’s very challenging.

“The county has been good, they’re trying to accomplish what they need to accomplish and we’re trying to abide by that and make it all work.”

Cajudoy emphasized that cooperation has been “pretty good” from parents, aunties, uncles and grandparents, but she knows things could change quickly. She and the CEMLL officials have been doing their best to watch the crowds at games to make sure everything is going well — wristbands on and visible, and masks on at all times outside the fence.

“That’s what I keep telling our parents, that we should be grateful that they’re out there,” she said. “And if you can’t follow the rules, I need you to take your kid and leave. I’ve said that in a couple of emails to parents and I think that they’re getting the message.”

Practices are limited to 30 people on the field.

“So no parents can come and watch practice, that’s a thing of the past,” she said. “The games, the games have been the hard part. We can only have 100 people at the field period — that’s including coaches, players, umpires, 100 per field.

“If you think about it with players, 12 on each team, that’s already 24, it’s already a quarter of what you can have, so not every parent, not every grandparent and younger sibling can come this year. So, it’s hard. I’ve been trying to express to my parents, ‘This is not the year everybody can watch.’ It’s just not. It’s one season out of their entire lives. It won’t be the end of the world.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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