Baseball and fireworks were the main entertainment Friday night at Werner Park in Omaha, but it was not the Triple-A Omaha Stormchasers on the field. The minor league season was canceled earlier this week.
The four teams on the field in Papillion were the Royal Blue Dogs, RailRiders, Bombers, and FilthBallers, members of the Corn Belt League, which is a collegiate summer league based in Omaha.
The RailRiders beat the Royal BlueDogs 4-0 in the first game, and in the nightcap the Bombers bettered the Filthballers 6-0.
The Corn Belt League was created to develop players in the summer, so they can go back to their college fall camps with sharpened skills.
“So while everybody is looking to win (games) the main thing of this league a is to get kids out there playing,” said Connor Shelton, the Public Address Announcer of the Corn Belt League. “So that way they can keep up with their skills. And hopefully, you know, just keep in baseball shape to help them in the summer.”
The Corn Belt league has players from all over the country, playing on the field of a Triple-A team and using their facilities.
“This is very big for these kids. We’re very excited for them,'” Shelton said. “They sold out tonight. We’re going to have 2500 people.”
“We are very glad that we were able to work out an agreement with the StormChasers to let these kids come and unfortunately, we’re not hoping it’s their only game in a park-like this, but it could be so to get to be able to play at a major league ballpark and to have them get the experience of it is phenomenal.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing protocols were in place.
Patrons had to buy an even number of tickets because each section had seats that were zip-tied, keeping fans from sitting in them. Werner Park also had all of its workers wear masks and anti-sneeze glass up as well, while encouraging fans to wear a mask.
“This is my tenth season, if you call it a season”, said Denise Lines, bartender at Spectra at Werner Park. “I think it’s just a nice way to bring the whole community together just to get some outdoor fun. I think people are missing coming out here.”
The teams in the Corn Belt League are also practicing social distancing to keep everyone in the league safe. They have protocols, such as no sharing equipment, everyone bringing their own drink and practice drills that allow them to be spaced.
“With these kids, giving them an opportunity to play some ball and just being aware of what’s going on in the world today and the spatial distancing that needs to take place,” said Joe Siwa, Director of Baseball Operations for the CornBelt League. “We’re just being smart, and we’re trying to do the best we can to give some kids some normalcy to be on the field.”
Stephen “Sonny” Sonico, Head Coach of the Omaha Black Sox, says this is a great way to help salvage some baseball, “I mean, that is anybody that plays the game understands missing the season is like looking under the Christmas tree and there wasn’t a present there.”