05_05_21_SPORTS_LittleLeague_4618

Courtesy of Steve Apfelberg Los Altos and Los Altos Hills Little League T-ball players practice for their next game.

After a tumultuous year for youth baseball here and just about everywhere due to the pandemic, Los Altos and Los Hills Little League’s 2021 season is now underway. The first games were played March 27.

Last season barely got off the ground, canceled just a few games in.

Steve Apfelberg, president of the local league, said they had a “pretty robust registration; we had formed teams, we had given out uniforms to all the players.”

Observing the spread of COVID-19, Apfelberg added that he called a board meeting to decide whether or not to temporarily shut down the season. He thought they might have to pause practice and play for a month or two, but “we might actually be able to finish this season in May,” Apfelberg said.

As the pandemic continued, Apfelberg said he and the other board members decided to offer various options to parents that had paid their registration fees, including a choice to continue playing baseball in a limited capacity.

“A lot of families took us up on that, and I really tip my hat to these coach volunteers who took time in the summer. … Twice a week, they would run these … fun kind of workout sessions for the kids,” Apfelberg said.

Proceeding with caution, the league opened registration for the 2021 season last November, though Apfelberg admitted that “we had no idea when that (season) would happen.”

Hope for a better season

Over the next few months, the likelihood of playing the season improved. In December, the league “got a blueprint for … when and how baseball could happen,” Apfelberg said, “but our county and state were still not at a place where it could happen here.”

Then, Santa Clara County’s youth sports guidelines came in line with the state’s official guidelines Jan. 27. Apfelberg said those modifications “cleared the path for a moderate contact sport like baseball to happen, even when a county was in the purple (tier).”

According to Apfelberg, such successful changes in youth sports guidelines were due to active pressure from local high school football coaches and organizations like Let Them Play California, which were able to “get meetings … all the way up to Governor Newsom.”

A ‘magical’ opening weekend

With anticipation brimming after a year of lost Little League play, Apfelberg said he wasn’t surprised about the success of the opening games at the end of March.

“It was a magical weekend and magical experience,” Apfelberg said. “It was an unbelievable feeling to be back out there. ... Everyone was so happy and … you didn’t have to look that hard underneath … the face masks of the players to see (their) smiles.”

Behind that success, he added, was an effective COVID-19 response that went above state and county guidelines.

“We went 100 percent within the guidelines, and then, on top of that, I think … the things we did on top of that were just how readily available we made … sanitizer and things like that,” Apfelberg said.

Apfelberg added that the system currently in place for Little League baseball is here to stay as long as the pandemic continues.

“We’re going to keep really tight with … any changes that happen to the (state youth sports restrictions),” he said.

While the league’s baseball season is off and running, the softball program is at a standstill. Apfelberg said not enough girls registered to have a 2021 season.

“Fortunately, we had a good relationship with another softball organization (Palo Alto Girls’ Softball), so we were able to point those families in (that) direction,” he said.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, Apfelberg said games will be played Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at Purissima Park in Los Altos Hills throughout the spring.

Apfelberg emphasized that Little League always tries to promote a sense of community and connectedness, holding an equipment donation drive the first week of April.

“Helping those less fortunate is an important aspect of the culture and community that exists in Los Altos & Los Altos Hills Little League,” Apfelberg said in a follow-up email. “We will be donating (this equipment) to the

Vacaville, California, baseball community, where many of the families do not have the financial means to purchase equipment.”

For more information, visit losaltoslittleleague.com/losaltoslittleleague.