Home plate umpires to remain in distanced positions through high school playoffs

By Ernie Clark, Bangor Daily News Staff

While standards for mask wearing, gathering size and social distancing have been relaxed in recent days, at least one thing won’t change as the state high school baseball and softball playoffs approach.

The umpires who call balls and strikes will remain in their revised positions through the crowning of state champions in both sports next month.

Home plate umpires for baseball will continue to work from behind the pitcher’s mound, 6 feet from the pitcher, while home plate softball umpires will remain stationed 6 feet behind the catcher for the remainder of the 2021 season.

Both typically do their jobs directly behind the catcher, but with the continuing presence of COVID-19, Maine Principals’ Association officials don’t want to risk an umpire testing positive for the coronavirus and jeopardizing a team’s opportunity to compete in postseason play.

By maintaining the 6-foot buffer, umpires would not be considered in close contact, so even if there was a positive test, the teams involved would not have to quarantine for 10 days.

“It was unanimous that the umpires themselves did not want to impact a team’s opportunity to play in the playoffs because of having to quarantine because of a positive case,” MPA Interscholastic Executive Director Mike Burnham said.

The regular season for high school baseball and softball concludes June 1. Postseason play in this year’s open tournament is scheduled to begin Saturday, June 5, with a play-in round if necessary for divisions with more than 16 teams.

That means teams are nearing the 10-day window where a positive case of COVID-19 with close contact could impact their ability to participate in the playoffs.

“Will that change for next year?” Dr. William Heinz of the MPA’s sports medicine advisory committee asked during a May 26 meeting. “Hopefully we’ll have enough people vaccinated so it won’t be an issue.”

While two umpires are the norm for regular-season contests in both baseball and softball, it is recommended that at least three umpires be used for early round postseason contests. Four-umpire crews will be assigned for regional championship games and state finals.

The MPA baseball and softball committees are scheduled to meet June 2 to confirm the final Heal Point ratings and establish postseason brackets.

The Round of 16 in both sports is scheduled for June 8, followed by regional quarterfinals on June 10, semifinals on June 12, and regional finals on June 15 and June 16.

The MPA was set to switch to a single-day format for regional finals in both baseball and softball this year, but some host sites weren’t available due to COVID-19 issues so officials reverted to the traditional two-day format.

Northern Maine softball regional finals will be held at Cony High School in Augusta (Class A) and Brewer High School (B, C and D), while South softball regional title games will be held at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

North regional championship baseball game sites are Morton Field in Augusta (Class A) and Mansfield Stadium in Bangor (B, C and D). South baseball regional finals will be at St. Joseph’s.

State finals in all classes are set for June 19 with softball at Brewer (Classes B and D) and St. Joseph’s (A and C) and baseball at Mansfield Stadium (B and D) and St. Joseph’s (A and C).

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