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New Britain Bees Not Expected to Compete in Atlantic League in 2020

New Britain Bees

The New Britain Bees will field a team in 2020, but the club’s status in the independent Atlantic League is uncertain amidst reports that it could compete in another circuit next season.  

The Bees have competed in the Atlantic League since 2016, their first season at New Britain Stadium following the move of the New Britain Rock Cats (Class AA; Eastern League) to nearby Hartford. There are questions about the club’s status for 2020, as reported Thursday that the Bees are not expected to return to the Atlantic League next season.

While the Bees stated via Twitter Thursday that they will field a team in 2020, the club did not clarify what league it will compete in and it appears that it could be a few weeks before an announcement is made. More from the Hartford Courant:

“I can tell you there will be Bees baseball in New Britain in 2020,” general manager Brad Smith said Friday. “Beyond that, we’re not commenting. We’ll be releasing more information in the coming weeks.”

The Bees, via Twitter, announced a schedule for 2020 will be coming out “shortly.”

The Atlantic League, the most prominent of the independent minor leagues, is preparing to move on without the Bees, according to multiple reports. The most likely scenario, according to an industry source, would have the Bees franchise shifting to the Canadian-American, or CanAm League, which operates with lower expenses and plays far fewer games.

As of now, the Atlantic League has not issued a schedule for 2020. Per the report, there are two different schedules said to exist for next season: a 140-game slate with eight teams, and another with 126 games featuring seven teams plus the Road Warriors. Atlantic League president Rick White did acknowledge that there are uncertainties surrounding next season that need to be resolved before a schedule is released, but did not get into specifics:

“There’s a great deal of speculation about a Road Warriors team based on some of the challenges we have in one of our markets,” White told in a one-on-one interview in Central Islip prior to Game 2 of the Championship Series.

“We’re trying to resolve that as quickly and efficiently as we can. I will share with you that we are examining a whole variety of alternatives, but as days go by, they’re rapidly dwindling. I think we’re going to have some sort of resolution at the end of this week or early to mid-week next week, but we’ve got to get on with it. The calendar is not our friend right now, we have to publish schedules, and we have to move from there. We’ll have it resolved soon one way or the other in my view.”

The Atlantic League last used a Road Warriors entry in 2018, when it rounded out the circuit’s eight-team by replacing the Bridgeport Bluefish. The debut of the High Point Rockers allowed the Atlantic League to field eight teams with fixed homes in 2019. If the Road Warriors do return for 2020, it would also be short-term arrangement, as an Atlantic League team will occupy a new downtown Gastonia, NC ballpark that is set to open in 2021.

As for the Bees, the club ranked last in Atlantic League attendance in 2019, drawing a per-game average of 2,080 fans. The club deals with a distinct challenge given the close proximity of the Eastern League’s Hartford Yard Goats (the former Rock Cats), who have drawn strong crowds since opening Dunkin’ Donuts Park in 2017.

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