Larry Lipnik
Larry Lipnik can mask his emotions while he pitches for Bais Chabad Torah Center. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Lipnik)

Bais Chabad pitcher Larry Lipnik says wearing a mask while playing softball ‘isn’t a big deal.’

Larry Lipnik wears a mask while he plays softball during this summer of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not comfortable, especially when you’re running the bases, but it isn’t a big deal after you get used to it,” said Lipnik, who pitches for the Bais Chabad Torah Center team in the weekly Inter-Congregational Men’s Club Summer Softball League.

“When you’re learning how to play baseball or softball, you have to learn how to wear a mitt,” Lipnik said. “When you’re learning to play football, you have to learn how to wear a helmet. There’s no difference here.”

Lipnik, 62, said he takes his mask-wearing seriously because public health experts say wearing a mask is an effective way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

He wears his mask nearly the entire time he’s playing in a league game, taking it off only for the few seconds it takes to get a drink.

Wearing a mask for long stretches isn’t a new experience for Lipnik.

He wears one all day in his job as an internal medicine doctor.

“I tell my patients to wear a mask, so I’m practicing what I’m preaching when I wear one during a softball game,” he said.

While it isn’t a mask, Lipnik wears a face guard while he’s pitching in some league games.

“A line drive glanced off my face during a league game a few years ago,” he said. “I got my mitt up and deflected the ball, but that was enough to convince me to get the face guard. I wear it when we play against teams with really good hitters.”

Wearing a mask isn’t required for players or umpires during league games, which are played at Drake Sports Park and Keith Sports Park in West Bloomfield. A few players and at least one umpire are wearing a mask.

Social distancing measures like keeping a 6-foot distance when possible, avoiding tagging or sliding, using hand sanitizer, and stationing the home plate umpire, catcher and batter farther apart than normal are part of the “new normal” in the league’s 25th season.

Plus, there’s free substitution. A team can loan players to an opponent to play in the field so there are no forfeits in the shortened league season, which began June 21, seven weeks later than scheduled, because of the pandemic.

Helping the Community League players raised $390 for the Detroit Justice Center in a pair of exhibition games June 14, a week before league play began. Each of the 39 players on four teams donated $10 to the cause.

“I made sure each team had a pitcher and I kept family members together, then I divvyed up the rest of the players,” said Steve Achtman, a league organizer, about how he put together the four teams.

Achtman’s son Ryan Achtman made the recommendation to designate the Detroit Justice Center as the recipient of the fundraiser.

“I have some good friends who are involved in the organization,” Ryan said. “My dad asked me for a recommendation on where the money raised by the exhibition games should go because he trusts me when it comes to social justice issues.”

Ryan sent an email to each league player after the exhibition games to explain why the DJC is an appropriate fundraiser recipient.

In the email, Ryan noted the DJC’s mission statement, which describes the organization as a “nonprofit law firm working alongside communities to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and just cities.”

“As Jews — descendants of oppressed peoples — we have a duty to stand up against injustice, whenever and whenever we see it,” Ryan wrote in his email.

“Today, in America, our focus has been directed to the economic, educational and political systems that have oppressed the Black community long after slavery. We have a duty to ‘never forget’ the tragedies experienced by our own people and use this fire to stand up for those now being killed, directly or indirectly.”

Ryan lives in Denver, Colo., and is a freelance graphic artist and web designer.

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