With No Word On Season, MiLB Teams Go Their Own Way
Although their regular season isn’t officially canceled, minor league teams over the past few weeks have begun acting as if that will be the case. Rather than wait for the official word, they are going to do what they need to do, announcement or no announcement.
Even with the MLB season sorted out, teams are still waiting. In the meantime, teams have begun scheduling events that run in direct conflict with home games that are still technically possible.
One of the most popular ways teams are finding to replace baseball games is ... more baseball games.
On June 30, the Texas Collegiate League will begin its 2020 schedule, with a few new additions. The league will take advantage of unused ballparks in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and Double-A Texas League, including Amarillo, Frisco, Tulsa and Round Rock.
Amarillo, which is home to the TL’s Sod Poodles, will host two teams at its year-old Hodgetown ballpark. Tulsa, Frisco, San Antonio and Round Rock each will host a team as well. Including playoffs, the league is slated to run until Aug. 8, and the schedule shows plenty of dates that conflict with potential minor league home games.
Round Rock’s TCL team—the Hairy Men (one of the Express’ alternate identities during a normal minor league season) will play its first home game on July 7, when the minor league team is scheduled to play a home game against Oklahoma City.
So, with the MiLB season technically not canceled, why would a team take a risk and schedule events on potential home dates? Simply put: They got tired of waiting.
“Obviously, there’s not a high confidence-meter on us actually hosting games for minor league baseball,” Round Rock general manager Tim Jackson said. “We’re a small business, like a lot of minor league teams are, and baseball’s the lion’s share of our revenue every year, so now, being halfway through what would have been our season, without games, is devastating.
“We just got to the point where we’re going, ‘Well, we’ve got to take matters into our own hands and hop in if it makes sense.’ ”
For the five minor league teams hosting TCL games, the proposition is fairly easy. The ballparks are already in place, Texas is one of the more “open” states in terms of restrictions on what people can and cannot do during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and there are plenty of local players who are anxious to get at-bats and innings after their 2020 season was cut short.
Round Rock’s roster, for example, includes players from Houston, Baylor, Texas State and Dallas Baptist, among others.
Because the coronavirus is still going strong, capacity at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond will be limited to 25 percent, or roughly 2,180, and the seating bowl will be divided in a way that promotes social distancing.
That helps the fans and team employees avoid contracting the coronavirus, but what about the players?
“We have a good hospital partner here in St. David’s, and we’ve run that by their CEO and president,” Jackson said. “The other issue we have with us is, we’re not able to provide COVID testing unless there’s symptoms. Now, should we have a player that has symptoms, then we can (test) immediately, but what we’ll have players do—and this is kind of what we have with my staff now—is we’ll have a self-screening process in the morning. It’s just a little website you go to on your phone.
“You answer a few questions and you submit that, just self-screening about how you feel today, if you’ve been around anybody (with symptoms) you’re going to get your temperature taken today, and when they arrive we’ll have a single place where they all come in and we’ll have an employee or a coach take their temperature and then go from there.”
Many teams are taking a similar course of action.
The Nashville Sounds, for example, are hosting a series of games between two teams of professional free agents (players who were released by MLB teams over the last few months) looking to showcase themselves for scouts in case a need arises for one of the 30 clubs.
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Even so, the Sounds are putting on these games not knowing with 100 percent certainty that their season is canceled. The games, which are slated to begin on July 23 and will be played every Thursday-Sunday for 10 weeks, set up conflicts with potential Sounds home games.
“Part of the reason we were delaying starting this (the league was supposed to begin on June 24) was that minor league baseball would obviously trump any idea that we had,” Nashville general manager Adam Nuse said. “If it was (the free agent games), or 36 concerts, or whatever it was, minor league baseball would trump it.
“So we held tight and delayed the time significantly to see what Minor League Baseball announced, and if it wasn’t for the Jayson Stark tweet (which broke the news), we’d still be doing that,” Nuse continued. “I think we’re still pretty sensitive to Minor League Baseball and what their announcement looks like, but we haven’t been given any indication as to when that happens. Really, this is ultimately our backup plan, but it continues to look more and more like reality and the best plan that’s out there.”
At least five teams in the minor leagues have been told that they will host their parent club’s alternate training (taxi squad) site, without having been officially informed that their normal season will not occur.
Altoona (Double-A, Pirates), Fredericksburg (high Class A, Nationals), Toledo (Triple-A, Tigers), Charlotte (high Class A, Rays) and Pawtucket (Triple-A, Red Sox) are each in line to host the mix of big league veterans and prospects who will be asked to stay loose in case they are needed.
Beyond baseball, teams still have plenty of other plans in the works. From drive-in movies, to farmers markets to fireworks nights to Airbnbs and plenty of other activities throughout the summer, minor league operators are feverishly finding ways to fill the gaps created by the lack of a minor league season.
Behind the scenes, operators freely acknowledge the chances of playing this year are extraordinarily slim and getting worse with each passing day. Still, there is plenty of frustration about the lack of an official word from the powers that be.
Omaha Storm Chasers president Martie Cordaro seemed to summarize the sport’s feelings with a tweet on June 24.
“Waiting is never fun. Waiting when you already know the answer is even less fun. I feel for all in @MiLB,” Cordaro wrote. “We are the forgotten in ‘20. We will again make our mark as the most generous & creative while providing an environment for future MLB players to develop. #BaseballFamily”