WINNIPEG -- Baseball Manitoba has been given the go-ahead by Sport Manitoba to return to play starting this weekend with three Manitoba Junior Baseball League doubleheaders on Sunday.

After a successful first phase in its plan to return, the organization is now moving ahead with its second phase ahead of its July 1 start date.

Health and safety checklists related to COVID-19 for players, coaches, umpires, ballpark maintenance staff, as well as parents and spectators, are available on the Baseball Manitoba website. It has also created the new volunteer role of Health and Safety Coordinator which every team must have and who will attend every game to answer any questions and monitor the new regulations.

Among the new rules:

  • Players and coaches will need to maintain 2 meters of physical distance, including in the dugout;
  • Signage for physical distancing must be present at all fields;
  • Sanitizing areas will be established for spectators;
  • No chewing gum or sunflower seeds will be allowed on the premises in 2020;
  • Balls and equipment must be sanitized after every game; and
  • Facilities can operate at 50% capacity with people expected to remain two meters apart except for brief exchanges.

There are no rule changes to the game itself. Umpires can assume the traditional position behind the catcher, though, they have the option to stand 6 feet behind the catcher or behind the pitcher’s mound.

Players are encouraged to bring their own equipment, though it can be shared if it is sanitized between users.

If there happens to be an outbreak during the season, Baseball Manitoba executive director, Jason Miller, says it will be up to Manitoba Health to decide whether local leagues can move forward.

“If you’ve tested positive or have any symptoms you’re not to be at any baseball events. That’s clearly stated in our plan and on our signage,” said Miller.

“So, if that happens we will assess and we will take orders from the province as to how to proceed.”

The Winnipeg AAA league will kick off the season on July 1, with grassroots play expected to start later in July.

Miller says teams will only be playing games within Manitoba against other Manitoba teams, and while all national tournaments and championships have been cancelled, provincials may still be a possibility later in the season.