Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saipan Little League scrapped its 2020 season but with the availability of vaccines and with no local transmission on island, Little League president Mike Borja said he’s giving the go-signal to start the 2021 season next month.
There’s only one catch though, as according to Borja, this year’s Little League season will only be CNMI-wide as champion teams will not have the opportunity to represent the islands in either the regionals—or if they make it that far—even the World Series in the U.S. Mainland.
“Saipan Little League will open its season in May and it will only go all the way to the regular season and district tournament. When you say district tournament it consists of the CNMI Little League made up of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota,” he said following last Saturday’s Saipan Little League meeting held at the Department of Public Works’ Grounds and Transportation office in Lower Base.
He said the pandemic has made a mess of the Little League’s calendar and there’ still no clarity if the Little League in the U.S. would even commence because of the high rates of COVID-19 there.
“If you look at the time now it’s April already. Normally district tournaments start in June and regionals starts in July… Little League International president Stephen D. Keener has also formed a committee that will come out with a recommendation with regards to opening the Little League season because we’re talking about the new norm now. COVID-19 will not just go away and it will take time and a lot of medical experts’ recommendations [before they open up in the States].”
In addition, Borja said according to Keener there will be no waiver on the age bracket for Major, Junior, and Senior leagues. It was the hope of some players, parents, and coaches that due to the pandemic, players who have aged out of their division would be given a waiver to rejoin their teams following the off-year brought about by COVID-19.
At the end of the day, Borja said he’s just happy that Saipan has this golden opportunity to restart its Little League program, unlike other parts of the world that are still in lockdown or activities are limited due to the pandemic.
“We’re lucky that our task force was able to contain COVID-19 and we only have a few local transmissions that was quickly quelled,” he said, adding that they will coordinate closely with the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force on how to go about opening the 2021 season of the Saipan Little League.
As of now, Borja is expecting 16 teams will take part in the opening day parade of the 2021 season.
“[Hopefully] we will gave four teams in the minors, four in the majors, four in the junior league, and four in the senior league,” he said.
Before the new Little League season unfurls, however, Borja said he wants to mandate all coaches and managers to get vaccinated.
“At Saipan Little League we’re dealing with kids from 6 years old to 16 years old and there’s still no vaccine for kids. We’re dealing with kids so we have to be very, very careful. We will come out with a requirement that all coaches and managers should be vaccinated for the 2021 season,” he said.
Borja said he’s very optimistic that Saipan will have a Little League season this year.
“One year is already very long not to have a Little League especially next year we will be hosting the Mini Games. We have to revive the Commonwealth’s favorite pastime. Baseball is still the CNMI’s No. 1 sport. We have to adapt for the kids. We need this type of return to normalcy.”