The crack of wooden bats will return to Recreation Field next month in another welcome sign that life is inching its way toward a new normal.
After losing the entire 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vermont Mountaineers open their 19th season on June 3 when they play host to the Keene Swamp Bats.
The Mountaineers will follow state pandemic guidance, which now allows up to 900 unvaccinated fans to attend outdoor events provided that universal social distancing rules are followed. Gov. Phil Scott has removed the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people (those who are at least two weeks out from their final vaccine dose) at outdoor events, but masks might still be needed at the game in congested areas such as concessions and rest room lines, Mountaineers General Manager Brian Gallagher said.
The details are still being worked out but Gallagher said there will be clear signage, announcements, and volunteer direction to keep fans informed and safe. By July 4, Scott has said all COVID restrictions could be lifted.
“Hopefully, people will be happy to be there and be respectful of people’s space,” Gallagher said. “The last thing we want is people not feeling comfortable when they come to the ballpark.”
Once the grandstand fills up, fans can use lawn chairs in the overflow seating areas around the field, he said. Gallagher said team officials haven’t yet decided how to deal with the question of how to prove a person is vaccinated. Scott said the state has operated on the “honor system” and has not required people to show proof of vaccination but he also said individual businesses can impose their own rules, even after the emergency order is lifted.
Fans will be able to buy the usual snacks, such as popcorn, ice cream, and the famous Skip’s root beer, but there will be a new vendor for those interested in finer dining.
Langdon Street Tavern will be offering ballpark fare along the first baseline in the space formerly occupied by Gus’ Catering.
Three Penny Taproom will again be offering beer and wine in the beer garden along the leftfield line.
The condition of rest rooms continues to be a problem at the city-owned field, forcing the team to provide a portable toilet for those fans with mobility issues.
“We probably have the worst bathrooms in the league,” Gallagher said. “We hope we can collaborate with the city to renovate them soon.”
The Mountaineers have invested $700,000 in improvements to the facility in the past two decades, including $7,000 in field corrections this season.
Ticket prices remain level again this season at $6 for adults, $4 for seniors, students, and members of the military, and $12 for a family of four. Teams in the NECBL play a 42-game schedule with 21 home dates. Vermont plays in the Northern Division along with the Upper Valley Nighthawks, Keene Swamp Bats, North Shore Navigators, North Adams Steeplecats, Sanford Mainers, and Winnipesaukee Muskrats.
On the Field
The three-time New England Collegiate Baseball League champions will field a 31-man roster from mostly Division I schools, including Michigan State, Dartmouth, Virginia Tech, Xavier, Penn State, and the U.S. Naval Academy. At least 15 of those players will be pitchers.
Gallagher said the pandemic made it a little more challenging to find host families this season and some of the players will be commuting from up to 45 minutes away.
All of the players and staff have provided proof of vaccination and 12 prospective players were turned away when they declined to receive the vaccine, he said.
“These guys have been through a lot in the last two years,” Gallagher said. “They had the previous season canceled and then maybe had a modified season this year with games canceled so hopefully they’re going to be hungry to play this summer.”
The coaching staff will be housed at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Gallagher said. Charlie Barbieri, head coach at SUNY Maritime College, will return for his second season as manager. He led the Mountaineers to 25 wins in 2019.
Gallagher said the team is seeking a rental home for Barbieri and his family for the month of July if anyone has a vacancy.