Minus international players, FIBI forges ahead with full schedule of baseball

Monday, July 20, 2020 | 5:29 PM

For nearly four months, Freeport International Baseball Invitational officials closely monitored updates on the coronavirus pandemic.

All the while, the 26th annual event, set to begin Tuesday and continue through Saturday, remained alive.

Now, on the eve of the start of a full slate of games involving nearly two dozen scholastic-age teams from throughout the region, all involved with the July tradition are ready to get started.

“It’s very exciting,” Freeport International president Chuck Sarver said. “This is what we hoped for back in March when all of this started.

“At the time, I thought of all the high school teams. I officiate track meets, and all the meets were canceled. It just blows your mind if you sit back and think about it.

“Back then, we still had several months and had hoped everything would be cleared up enough. We were thinking through it all that if nothing else, we could get local teams with a lot of the high school players. That’s how it started with (Freeport’s) Ed Carr and other coaches helping. All the fields are ready to host games.”

Sarver said this is the first time in the history of the event there will not be any international players. It is, he said, a sign of the unprecedented times being experienced.

After nearly a decade as a game participant and ambassador, Australian Nick Leahy will not be playing.

“It definitely will be weird to not see him here,” Sarver said. “He was over here on a visit a couple of months ago before the covid started. He saw his first snow. But with work, and he’s getting older with more responsibilities, he wasn’t going to be able to be here. It’s sad. He loved coming here each year, and we loved having him.”

Sarver said several Japanese players were planning on attending, but were not able to travel, per the covid restrictions.

“We had started to email them back in January,” Sarver said. “They were in line to come here, but they were told by their school — they are affiliated with International Christian University — that they couldn’t leave their country.”

And in addition to preventing international players from traveling, covid also stopped the plans for a team from Puerto Rico.

As tough as it is to think about who is not able to make it, Sarver said the focus is on who will see action this week and upholding the event’s mission of it being “for the love of the game.”

“I am happy to be sitting here with the number of teams we have,” Sarver said. “I went out to watch my grandson at a big tournament in Penn Township two or three weeks ago, and it was just nice to be around baseball. I told several people that I didn’t care if the players wore T-shirts, blue jeans, shorts, whatever. As long as they want to play some ball, that’s fine with me.”

The field consists almost entirely of Pittsburgh-area teams, but FIBI mainstay Mercyhurst will return with a pair of teams, and two teams from Northern Cambria club Super Swing will play multiple days.

A quartet of fields will host games, including at least four games every day at the main field, James E. Swartz Sr. Memorial Field, in Freeport.

Games also will be at Braeview Park in Lower Burrell, as well as on fields in Worthington and Etna.

Mercyhurst and Kiski will get things started with a 10 a.m. game Tuesday at Swartz Field.

The Old Timers game will be at Swartz on Thursday at 8 a.m., and an all-star game caps the five days of games Saturday at 8 p.m.

The headliner Friday at Swartz will be a matchup between teams from Kiski and Freeport. Before the game, seniors on both teams will be recognized.

“It’s always fantastic to be a part of something like this,” said Kiski coach Aaron Albert, who played in the Freeport International in the early 2000s. “Ed Carr at Freeport and I are very close, and we had kind of brainstormed a bunch of ideas about how we could still honor our seniors. We have nine seniors, and I think Freeport has 10 or 11. To be able to play a game under the lights on Friday night is awesome.”

Sarver said there will be signs throughout each location for social distancing and a number of safety measures in line with recommended guidelines from local, state and national agencies.

“I think people will just have to use common sense,” Sarver said.

“Everyone is on board with what will be in place. The biggest crowd probably will be Thursday with the Old Timers game. There is plenty of room to watch baseball. (Freeport) Borough couldn’t have been more generous in allowing us to do this.”

Sarver said spectators at Swartz Field will notice added safety netting down the third-base line, and he said he hopes a lot of runs scored will light up the newly installed scoreboard.

“The field is looking good and ready to go,” Sarver said.

FIBI officials request those with questions about the event or who desire more information email Fibisecretary@gmail.com.

Runners interested in Saturday morning’s John Cossy Costantino Memorial 5K and 10K should visit runsignup.com.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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