The Stoughton Merchants will open the Home Talent League season on Saturday, July 4 at Waterloo.

Where Stoughton will be playing home games is the bigger story. The Merchants don’t have approval to use Norse Park until Phase 3 of the Forward Dane plan – which outlines a return to the county reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stoughton is scheduled to host Evansville in its first home game on July 12. There will be no Thursday Night League games this year.

The Merchants currently have an eight-game schedule. Lake Mills decided not to have a team this season.

“Guys have been locked up for a long time,” Seffens said. “Everyone is ready to go. Hopefully by July 12, we will be in Phase 3. If we can’t play on our field, we may have to play road games. We may have to work something out with Utica to use their field.”

The Merchants have practiced at Norse Park and played a scrimmage game at Utica.

The Home Talent League Executive Board on June 8 approved a shortened 10-game season this summer in all four sections that will begin July 4 weekend. The playoffs would feature four or six teams from each section instead of the usual eight teams. The league plans to hold a “final four” single-game elimination championship series Sept. 13 and 20 if possible. The traditional championship series is a round-robin format.

The HTL Executive Board issued a statement saying, “The approval was given to begin play; it will be under continuous review in both the areas of health and field availability for teams under a county reopening plan in both Dane and Rock counties.”

There are safety protocols that are being required for a return to play.

If a player tests positive for the virus, he must be quarantined for 14 days. The league suggests each player and team official present gets tested before the next game.

If an opposing team does not want to play a team with an infected player, the game will be made up or cancelled.

All dugouts will be sprayed with a sanitizing solution before and after games and practices. There will be sanitizing agents in both dugouts.

The 6-foot social distancing guideline must be observed in the dugout area. That would mean two or three players would be allowed in the dugout, while the rest of the team sits in chairs outside the dugout.

All shared equipment – bats, helmets and catching gear – will be sanitized before and after each use.

Pitchers will be barred from going to their mouth before making a pitch. Players and coaches should refrain from high fives, fist bumps, elbow touches and handshake lines.

Chewing of tobacco, seeds, gum and spitting is prohibited.

There will be extra signage regarding social distancing among spectators in the stands and frequent announcements over public address systems. Concession stands will be open at some ballparks based on local rules and regulations. Stoughton is planning on having its concession stand closed if they get the go-ahead for home games.