Trenton Catholic Academy’s Ali Pompey (playing for NJ Tigers) has his temperature taken before a July 15 game at the city’s Babe Ruth field. Rich Fisher photo
Trenton Catholic Academy’s Ali Pompey (playing for NJ Tigers) has his temperature taken before a July 15 game at the city’s Babe Ruth field. Rich Fisher photo

Preparing for baseball amidst a pandemic is not the easiest task, but the 222 teams that played in the “Last Dance” World Series made it work.

Obvious precautions had to be taken before the tournament, before and during each game.

“In order for us to practice, we had to follow strict guidelines from the CDC, NJSIAA and the school,” said St. John Vianney assistant coach Scott Bellone, who coached RBI Baseball, which consisted of SJV students. “It was a matter of getting our own insurance, taking everyone’s temperature, having a [COVID-19] questionnaire before we got out of the parking lot” and onto the field.

The process would continue before each game. Players and coaches were required to wear face masks in the dugout; the game would be halted if any team disobeyed that rule. Between each inning, coaches sprayed every player’s hands with sanitizer. 

Ali Pompey, who played for the NJ Tigers, which consisted of Trenton Catholic Academy students, just went with the flow. “It’s strange. But I know it’s all safety precautions to make sure COVID doesn’t spread anymore.”

He also noted that during RBI Baseball’s pool games at Trenton Babe Ruth, Trenton, teams had to sit in the bleachers rather than in the dugouts.

Probably the toughest part for all involved was the no-contact rule – other than fist and elbow bumps – during games. With emotions being a huge part of competitive athletics, there is always the instinct to high-five or hug a teammate.

That made things tough for RBI Baseball after Thomas Wright threw six innings of no-hit ball with 10 strikeouts in their opening-day win. Or, in the first inning, when emotions were high as Matteo Pasculli homered.

“It was hard not to congratulate him,” said Dominic Cerniglia, an RBI Baseball senior. “We couldn’t shake his hand when he was walking off the mound.” 

What made the Pasculli non-celebration even tougher – it was his birthday.

“The first thing you want to do is go out and greet him at home plate,” Bellone said. “I’m screaming from the dugout, ‘No, no, stay back, don’t touch!’ It’s tough because … it’s what we’ve done all our lives.”

Bellone noted that several RBI coaches handled the game situation, while others just focused on keeping everyone social distanced. Another thing to keep an eye on: snacks.

“My trainer came up and said some guys were chewing sunflower seeds,” Belmar’s coach Rich Lanko said. “I didn’t even think about it. You can’t chew them because you’re not allowed to spit.”

At least one player wasn’t bothered by that aspect. “I’m a gum guy,” Tigers’ pitcher Connor Egan said with a grin. “We’re allowed to chew that.”