The waiting game continues. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and negotiations between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball on a Professional Baseball Agreement have thrown the Vancouver Canadians and the entire Northwest League in a state of flux.
There is no official word that the 2020 Northwest League season has been cancelled but it does not look good. Baseball America has reported the state of Oregon is saying no to large gatherings of people for sporting events scheduled in September. That would prove to be problematic for the NWL’s three Oregon teams in Eugene, Hillsboro and Salem-Keizer.
Eugene Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides—whose club is scheduled to open the season at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver June 17—had told The Oregonian in late April that they were preparing for fans to be socially distanced at P.K. Park.
“Say there is a season, say that we get a team and whatnot, we will abide but whatever restrictions are in place. If we’re only allowed 500 fans in the ballpark, we’ll go with that. We’ve got plans in place to do social distancing, having ushers in attendance at the bathrooms, making sure we can monitor how many folks coming in. We’ve got plans to do every other seat, every two seats. Eliminating some of the tables in the hospitality areas. If we have a third of the ballpark, if that’s all we can fill, fine. We’re not fighting for that. We want to be able to bring baseball to our community as best as possible. It is a nightmare scenario for us to think that we won’t have baseball this summer. But that is not our decision; we’re waiting to hear whether or not we will have the permission to host games this season.”
Benavides believes if there is a season, it would start sometime after July 1 and play into September, something also echoed by Vancouver Canadians president Andy Dunn. However, having no fans in the stands would make it untenable to play ball for minor league teams as they have no television contract to depend on.
Everett AquaSox General Manager Danny Tetzlaff told The Seattle Times earlier this month that minor league teams need fans in the stands.
“All our revenue is generated from having actual people in the stands, so an option for us to play in an empty stadium with just ballplayers on the field would really not make a lot of sense. As much as I’d love to see ballplayers running around Funko Field, if I don’t have some people in the stands to watch them and buying a hot dog, we’re just not in a position to do that.”
Benavides also points to the coronavirus speeding up the timetable for Major League Baseball’s plan to contract 42 teams in MiLB.
“Had you asked me this a couple of weeks ago, three weeks ago we were looking at extending our current Professional Baseball Agreement a couple of years to figure it out. The way we understand it now, Major League Baseball wants to move forward with this as of next year. So as of next year the Northwest League will be a Low-A level team. We’ll be no longer short-season, but Single A, Low-A. What that length of that schedule is is still undetermined. They’re still trying to figure out is it 140-game schedule, is it 120-game schedule, is it 100 games? But I can certainly tell you that it will not be 76.”
The two Northwest League teams on the initial contraction list are the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and the Tri-City Dust Devils. That would really hurt Tri-City after the municipality spent $2 million in Gesa Stadium upgrades. However, Volcanoes CEO Mickey Walker told The Salem Reporter that he is hopeful his club will be in the NWL next year.
“MLB has made it pretty clear that they love the Northwest League and how much they value its presence in the Northwest, where the only other professional baseball is the (Seattle) Mariners. So why would they make it a six-team league?”
No WCL Ball in Victoria & Kelowna
The Victoria HarbourCats and the Kelowna Falcons of the summer collegiate West Coast League has closed up shop for 2020 due to COVID-19. Will the Vancouver Canadians meet the same fate? Steve Ewen of The Vancouver Province reports that answer should be coming within the next few days.
New MLB Affiliate for Spokane?
The Spokane Indians could have a new MLB partner in 2021 according to Dave Nichols of The Spokesman-Review. Currently affiliated with Texas, Nichols believes that will change next year.
“The Texas Rangers, own two Class-A affiliates already – the creatively named Down East Wood Ducks (high-A) in Kinston, North Carolina, and the Hickory (North Carolina) Crawdads in low-A. Not surprisingly, neither was on the list for contraction.
The Rangers certainly wouldn’t give up ownership rights to those affiliates. With each MLB club slated for one minor league affiliate in each classification, in this scenario it would seem to leave the Indians without an MLB parent club.”
Nichols lists Washington, Houston and Kansas City as possible affiliates for Spokane.