It all started as an idea at Kip Ellington’s kitchen table.
Now, more than 30 regional baseballers — from incoming freshmen to upperclassmen — are set to play in the twice-a-week league at Brooks Stadium in Paducah beginning on Monday, as part of the “hopefully one-and-done” Kentucky Prospects Collegiate Baseball showcase.
With the Ohio Valley League sidelined for the summer and the coronavirus pandemic shuttering competitive baseball for the last three months, Ellington and his son, Rook, began pondering the possibility of clamoring together talent from the area for live pitching and hitting.
On June 3, the two began sending out text messages to friends.
“I guess in 10 days, we had over 30 kids respond,” noted Ellington, also the Kentucky Prospects league director. “And we were like, ‘Wow, we may have something bigger than this. Let’s try to see how many we can get, and maybe it’s three to four teams.’
“But of course, we’re pushed up against scheduling (and COVID-19 phasing), and we couldn’t wait too long. So we decided two teams would be easier to manage, as would two games a week.”
Outside of a smallish inner circle, the league quickly became a first-come, first-serve coalition, with Ellington and Kentucky Prospects President Bobby Riffe eventually reaching out to local colleges like Southeastern Illinois College and Murray State to provide some strong talent for deeper rosters.
And the purpose of all this is simple.
On March 12, high school baseball in Kentucky never saw liftoff, and collegiate baseball was frozen. The 2020 MLB Draft, limited to five rounds in this pandemic, didn’t scoop up some of the mercurial prospects it usually does, meaning lots of talent is headed back to school.
Tack on the fact that the NCAA has graciously granted an extra year of eligibility for spring scholarship athletes (if they so desire it), and there’s a considerable logjam of skilled athletes about to all be jockeying for nine positions on a baseball field in fall 2020/spring 2021 on college campuses.
Work now for a spot later.
“Most of these college players shut down in the middle of March, and we’re not certain when everyone is going back for sure,” Ellington added. “Most are back at August, and won’t be on the field until September. And you start doing the math: that’s six months. These guys will skip the primary weather of baseball season and not even have a game.
“We’ve gotta do this for these kids. Ultimately that’s what it was about. It’s an opportunity to stay in game shape.”
Another caveat to the competition? Weekly trades will be made between the two teams in order to mix the skill sets, and in Week 6, a fantasy draft will be held before a best-of-three series declares a champion.
The logisticsClearly, there were some considerable hurdles that needed to be cleared in the last three weeks for any of this to happen.
No. 1, Kentucky’s restart plan under Gov. Andy Beshear needed to sync up with local players and officials for a pertinent timetable. Had the implemented phasing stretched longer into the summer, a league of 12 or more games might not have been feasible.
Instead, outdoor practices with 10 or fewer players and one coach began on June 15 with heavy sanitation and required distancing. On Monday, Phase 2 begins with the allowance of competitive games behind heavy stipulations: participants must have health screens with temperature checks and six-query questionnaires about symptoms. And fan capacity at venues cannot exceed 50%.
For Brooks Stadium, that’s 750 seats.
No. 2, the Brooks Stadium Commission not only had to authorize and buy in to the Kentucky Prospects’ plan, but it also had to have its facility ready to receive athletes and a limited amount of fans through the implemented guidelines of the governor’s office and the Center for Disease Control.
According to Brooks Stadium President Frank “Doc” Hideg, everything is a “go.”
“We’re definitely excited about helping them, but at the same time, I think it gives us a chance for the (OVL’s) Paducah Chiefs to take a look at some ballplayers who may be interested in coming and playing for us,” Hideg said.
“And the exciting part about it is ... if you stop and think about it, now the fans have got to play by the rules. And we’re going to see if they play by the rules. If not, I guess the umpire is going to have to throw them out. And it’s going to be us playing by the rules, fans playing by the rules, and of course it’s rules being set by the governor and the city of Paducah.”
Fans should expect $5 ticket prices and limited concessions that meet CDC guidelines (pre-packaged), with all proceeds bound for the Brooks Commission.
Furthermore, fans should expect a longer wait in line. Per local health department stipulations, individuals will have to report names and limited contact information for appropriate contact tracing of potential COVID-19 cases. If it’s reported that someone attended a Kentucky Prospects game and later tests positive, connections must be made.
But finally, Brooks Stadium will be silent no more.
“We want to help these kids be prepared to go back to school and compete for their position,” Hideg said. “The kids can get in shape, keep scholarships and get through college.”
All game changes, rain outs and miscellaneous updates will be posted on Twitter at @ProspectsKY, while all live scoring updates will be provided by the Gamechanger App.
First pitch will be at 6:30 p.m. every Monday and Thursday for the next six weeks, pending any announcements.
Follow Marlowe on Twitter @dreamarlowe85, call him (270) 575-8661, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.