With MLB and the MLBPA squabbling over a return of Major League Baseball, we’re seeing MLB teams prepping for the potential return of fans to the ballpark, while independent and summer-collegiate teams are doing the same under very challenging circumstances.
And baseball is returning. Last night we saw the first resumed action of the year at the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational in Bryan, TX. On June 15 the Bismarck Larks will begin the Northwoods League season with three teams playing out of Bismarck Municipal Stadium, opening the ballpark to limited crowds practicing social distancing. The league is working on a “pod” scheduling system with four teams in close proximity operating on a limited schedule. Much of this will depends on how local authorities scale back pandemic mitigation measures: today, for instance, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is expected today to increase the number of people allowed in theaters and other entertainment facilities to 250; we’d expect this number to keep rising in the course of June. In Iowa, the Northwoods League’s Waterloo Bucks front office is working with state and local authorities for a reopening plan come July, ideally playing in a four-team pod with Mankato, Rochester and La Crosse. That plan includes social distancing and contactless concessions on the fan side, and plenty of safety checks for players. (Alas, not all summer-collegiate leagues are in the same boat, with most calling it quits: today the West Coast League announced there would be no 2020 season.)
Meanwhile, teams in summer-collegiate leagues with canceled seasons are launching their own limited leagues. In O’Fallon, MO, the O’Fallon Hoots (Prospect League) announced the launch of the CarShield Collegiate League to play at CarShield Field this summer. The CarShield Collegiate League will host a six-team league with teams made up of primarily local players playing all games at CarShield Field in O’Fallon. Each team will play 30, 7-inning games. Tickets will indeed be sold for the games, which start July 1.
On the independent side, the St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association) laid out a plan for fan safety that includes plenty of social distancing and measures like paperless tickets. In the Atlantic League, the Somerset Patriots hosted a dozen local players and tryout hopefuls yesterday at TD Bank Ballpark for the first workout of 2020. “Right now it is all about doing it the right way and the safe way,” said longtime infielder Scott Kelly, shown above. “It’s about practicing good judgment, being conscious at all times, and abiding by the ‘new rules.’”
Every player had their temperatures checked by the team’s certified athletic trainer Alexis Ayala provided by RWJBarnabas Health. He also questioned each about any travel outside of the state, work experience over the past few weeks, and any other relevant contact they may have had that would impact their health and possible exposure to COVID-19. Once cleared, players were able to take the field.
On the MLB side, we may actually see fans in the stands this season if MLB and MLBPA can come to an agreement on a game plan. According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, Commissioner Rob Manfred is reportedly in favor of teams allowing fans in the stands if allowed by local authorities, even if other teams are prevented from doing so. For instance, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott opened the way for ballparks to open up to 50 percent of capacity—although he made the announcement on a day when Texas set a state record for highest number of positive COVID-19 tests. That means about 20,000 or so fans could potentially attend a Rangers game at Globe Life Field.
“The Texas Rangers are looking forward to the potential of returning to play in 2020,” the team said in a press statement. “Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association are having ongoing discussions about that possibility at the present time, and the Rangers are in the process of operational planning for if and when we have a spring training and regular season games at Globe Life Field. The health and safety of our players, staff, and fans are a top priority, and we will await further information and guidance from Major League Baseball and the appropriate health authorities in the coming days and weeks.”
And what about Minor League Baseball? It would take a miracle for a season to happen, as more teams have announced layoffs and team owners telling fans they don’t expect to see a 2020 MiLB season.
We know you have a lot of questions about the 2020 season. While we don’t have answers to all of those questions, many have asked what will happen to our staff if the season is canceled. We can answer that.
Please see below for the latest. pic.twitter.com/ftC7ESsTTo
— Pensacola Blue Wahoos (@BlueWahoosBBall) June 3, 2020
— Williamsport Crosscutters (@crosscutters) June 5, 2020
With daily news about the spread of the coronavirus impacting the sports-business and facilities industries, it’s more important than ever to stay up with the latest news in the venues industry. That’s why we launched a Venues Digest newsletter focusing on coronavirus information across the ballparks, arenas, stadiums, theater and performing-arts worlds. For now it will appear daily, and for now it will be free of charge to industry professionals. Sign up here.
RELATED STORIES: MLB reportedly rejects 114-game season; what comes next?; Why a 50-game season makes sense for MLB, MLBPA; Fate of 2020 MLB season again up in the air; Players reject MLB financial plan for 2020 season resumption; California, New York govs clear way for sports in empty ballparks in June; Teams find alternative uses for ballparks as entertainment venues; Fans prioritize safety when considering return to baseball: study; When baseball returns, will fans return as well?