Gifford-Flatville, 2 other E.I. teams won't play in 2020

Gifford-Flatville celebrates its come-from-behind EI League championship series win on Sunday at Scheiwe Field in Buckley. After the Dutchmasters took the best-of-three series opener Saturday, the Gif-Flats stormed back to win the title with a pair of victories a day later behind an explosive offense and with the help of some shoddy Buckley defense.

GIFFORD — Three members of the Eastern Illinois Baseball League, including Gifford-Flatville, will not play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Game 7 and El Paso have also opted not to play.

That leaves the Paxton Swedes, Buckley Dutchmasters and Royal Giants as the only teams hoping to play this season.

The league issued the following statement on its website:

“EI Baseball team representatives, commissioners and umpires continue to be in constant communication about the upcoming season. The organization continues to look at all options. The league will operate under recommendations from local health officials and facility management entities.”

Gifford-Flatville General Manager Nory Loschen said he and Manager Dan Plecki felt it was “too much of a health risk” to play this season.

“I love baseball, and I want to play, but when little league, travel league, college baseball, minor league ball and major league ball are probably ... not going to participate this year,” it would be wise not to play. “We’re just a little fish in a big sea,” Loschen said.

In addition to the health risk, Loschen said he doesn’t believe it would be practical to comply with all of the safety requirements.

“If you follow all the guidelines, technically you can have restrooms, but you have to sanitize them every time someone uses it,” he said.

The 6-foot social distancing requirements would have to be maintained, even in the dugouts, and everyone would have to wear masks.

Loschen said he believes not playing is “a smart move,” and he would feel bad if someone attending a game were to contract the virus.

“I just think one year of us not participating in the E.I. is not going to kill the league,” he said. “If that’s the worst thing that happens to you, you’ve been pretty fortunate.”

League historian Fred Kroner said the league has never missed a season in its 85-year history.

Technically, it likely won’t this year either if the three teams are able to play.

Buckley Dutchmasters General Manager Trent Eshleman said league play isn’t likely to happen before July.

“It doesn’t look like June will open up to have fans,” he said, adding he believes the fan consideration is important.

“They’re chomping at the bit to watch us,” he said. “It is a source of income. The teams all charge a gate.”

Eshleman said the league was originally planning to take July 5 off because of the Independence Day holiday, so play might start the following Sunday, July 12.

“Tentatively we’re looking at a few weeks of those three teams (Buckley, Royal and Paxton) doing a round robin, maybe July 12, 19 and 26 and ... everybody play a doubleheader against each other.”

He said they are also looking at some outside teams such as Beecher and Bloomington.

He said the Dutchmasters are considering a round-robin June 28 with Beecher and Bloomington “but some things need to be worked out.”

He said Buckley is also making contact with some teams in Indiana.