Young baseball players are competing for a spot in the Little League World Series. But when the popular tournament begins next week, the general public won't be invited due to the spike in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant.
Last year's Little League tournament was canceled outright for the first time in its history. The decision to hold this year's tournament with only a very limited number of spectators is "disappointing," officials said, but they add that the move is required by the new coronavirus wave.
Organizers had planned to distribute some 3,000 tickets for each day of the tournament, which is traditionally played in South Williamsport, Pa. But they've now pulled that plan, citing the need to protect players and their families, along with coaches and volunteers.
The Little League World Series is slated to run from Aug. 19-29 and will feature the top two teams from each of eight U.S. regional tournaments.
In-person spectators will be limited to "the family and friends of our 16 participating teams and our highest-level volunteers and supporters," said Steve Keener, Little League International's president and CEO.
Teams that play in the tournament will each get 250 passes for their friends and family, organizers say.
"All spectators, regardless of vaccination status, will also be strongly encouraged to wear a face mask when on the complex, especially while in any indoor facility during their visit," the league said.
Little League organizers decided in May to move ahead with holding this summer's baseball and softball tournaments. The softball tournament is already underway in Greenville, N.C.
"As this virus evolves, we must continue to stay vigilant and do everything we can to reduce exposure of COVID-19 to our players and participants," said Dr. Daniel Lueders, a physician who leads the Little League's pandemic advisory commission.
"Reducing fans in Williamsport is a disappointing but necessary measure we must make to support that effort at this time," Lueders said.