Category Archives: Atlantic League of Professional Baseball

Sugar Land Skeeters Delay Start of Summer League as MiLB Cancels Season

A couple of weeks ago, the Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.

On June 30, the team announced that they were delaying the start of the league by a week to July 10. The delay comes as cases of COVID-19 soar to new heights in Texas leading to serious questions about whether the start will be pushed back again when July 10 rolls around.

To be clear, in lieu of a miracle, it is highly unlikely that the state of COVID-19 in Texas will be better in a week. In fact, if the spike in cases that followed Memorial Day is any indication, displays of patriotism and group gatherings for the July 4th Weekend are likely to send COVID-19 cases soaring like a roman candle reaching for the heavens.

I get that the Skeeters want to have their league succeed. I want their league to succeed as well. But the outlook is not too favorable for that to happen in the current COVID-19 climate.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.
Photo R. Anderson

The same day that the Skeeters announced the seven-day season slippage, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) made the announcement many people already knew was coming, and said that there would be no MiLB season this year.

As noted many times before, MiLB is my absolute favorite form of baseball, and the fact that the season has been cancelled makes me truly sick to my stomach because of all of the employees who will get laid off, as well as knowing that many of the players and some of the teams may not be around when the 2021 season rolls around next April.

There is always high turnover in any MiLB season as some players move up, and others just quietly retire having never reached the pinnacle of playing in the Show. This year the normal ebb and flow of player movement has a new element called contraction.

In November 2019, before the world was gripped by a global pandemic, MLB announced that it wanted to eliminate around 42 minor league affiliates and keep about 120 affiliates tied to 30 MLB clubs, or roughly four MILB teams per MLB club, as a cost savings measure. The COVID-19 pandemic just sped that process along and meant that some Ballparks would not get a farewell season.

Of course, MLB said a few years back that they wanted to get rid of a few teams and placed the Expos and the Twins on the chopping block. Although the Expos left Montreal and became the Nationals, the last time I checked we still have 30 MLB franchises.

Congressional leaders are also likely to weigh in on any plan that would take baseball away from their constituents.

So, I am cautiously optimistic that MLB will back off of their plan to reduce the ranks of MiLB, but something tells me they will keep their foot on the gas.

From a big picture MLB perspective, I understand that they want to streamline the operation to have fewer players and better facilities across the board in the farm system of the future. In recent years, MLB clubs even started owning their farm teams as a means to control costs from Rookie ball to MLB. As such, the MiLB owners were already getting pushed aside in many markets.

I know that baseball is a business. One need only listen to MLB owners complain about lost revenue during the 2020 season to know where many of their heads are at. But, for many of the smaller communities that are served by MiLB teams, baseball is an extension of the community and a part of the lifeblood that pumps from generation to generation.

The last MiLB game in Orlando was played in 2003 and it left a void for baseball fans in the region. Granted, the loss of a MiLB team in Orlando is not going to have the same effect as the loss of a team in a smaller community. While they currently do not have professional baseball, Orlando has college sports at the University of Central Florida, the Orlando Magic, the Orlando Solar Bears, Orlando City, and Orlando Pride. Of course, if Pat Williams has his way Orlando will become an MLB city someday.

Contrast the sport heavy balance sheet of Orlando with say Billings, Montana. Billings, and many other cities where MiLB is played, do not have other professional sports nearby. So, a night at the Ballpark is literally the only game in town when it comes to professional sports in many markets. Besides offering entertainment for fans, the Ballparks offer employment for everything from ticket takers to ushers.

If the teams go away, the jobs will go away as well.

If MLB really does go through with their plan of reducing the ranks of MiLB as a way to save a buck, I really hope that non-affiliated baseball leagues like the ALPB and others can fill the void and keep baseball in the towns affected by the loss of their MiLB franchise.

I know there are people who will stand up and shout that independent baseball is not the same as affiliated baseball. I will not argue that point, other than to say that if I had a choice between having an Independent League team in my town, or no baseball team in my town, I am going to go with having the Independent League team every time.

The baseball fan in me wants to see the Sugar Land Skeeters summer league succeed. However, as much as I love Swatson, the reporter in me cannot justify putting fans and players at risk of catching COVID-19 just to play ball.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, the reality is that some owners may not have the resources to run an Independent baseball team without the support that went along with being affiliated with MLB.

That is why the baseball fan in me wants to see the Skeeters summer league succeed so that the players and staff don’t have to worry about losing their jobs. Of course, when I put on my reporter hat, I still cannot justify putting fans and players at risk of catching COVID-19 just to play ball.

MLB is still planning a return at the end of July for their 60-games in 66 days mini season, but many more players each day are choosing to opt out of the season.

It is a tough calculus that I really hope we are not faced with again once the COVID-19 pandemic is finally defeated thanks to either a vaccine, or effective therapeutics, that allow the world to fully reopen again.

When that day of reopening does occur, I will be one of the first people in line at the Ballpark to see the game I love played once more. Sadly, the residents of up to 42 communities may not be as lucky.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to celebrate Bobby Bonilla Day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Astros Owner, Jim Crane, Just Made One of the Most Tone-Deaf Statements Ever Uttered

As I mentioned the other day, after much soul searching, I have decided that I am done supporting the Houston Astros. I have lost all respect for them as an organization, and I really do not see them earning my respect back any time soon.

This was not an easy decision for me to reach. I have a lot of great memories of supporting the Astros, however statements like the one made by team owner Jim Crane on June 24th, only reinforce the stance that is time for me to retire my Astros fandom, just like the new owners retired poor Junction Jack as their mascot.

I really want to stop writing about the Astros, but when they throw a fast ball down the middle of the plate, I have no other choice but to knock it out of the park.

To set the stage, with Major League Baseball set to return in the middle of a global pandemic with a 60-games in 66 days mini season, and the Houston Astros already facing scorn for getting caught cheating, it is almost like Crane said to the person standing next to him at one of the golf courses that he owns, “hold my nachos, I am going to say something so absurd that they will forget about the fact that we cheated in 2017.”

In one of the most tone deaf, failing to take the temperature of the room, comments that I have ever heard, Crane was quoted by many news outlets as saying that in order to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, he wants to have fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.

Houston Astros Owner Jim Crane is eager to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, having fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.
Photo R. Anderson

Crane’s ludicrous comments also come amid the backdrop of Houston health officials warning that they’re running out of ER space because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

That means that even someone who does not have COVID-19, but needs to go to the ER because of something like a car accident, may not be able to get the lifesaving treatment that they need.

Crane’s remarks are like giving a single foam finger salute to Houston and the surrounding region by saying I want your money more than I want you to be safe.

Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” as a COVID-19 pandemic surrounds Minute Maid Park is so out of touch with reality. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the Union Station area of the Ballpark as a potential surge hospital for COVID-19 patients instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to potentially create more patients for an overtaxed health district

At 71-years-old, Dusty Baker, is the oldest manager in MLB. Baker, who also happens to manage the Astros, told the Associated Press that, “I’m a bit nervous. I’ve seen the reports in Houston how COVID’s going up so I’m going to have to really be careful.”

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” seems a bit tone deaf in light of the raging COVID-19 pandemic that surrounds Minute Main Park. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the ballpark as a potential surge hospital instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to create more patients for an overtaxed health district.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of that need to be careful involves Baker’s age which puts him in the higher risk category. But, it seems that Crane is willing to expose Baker to more people in order to make a buck.

While Crane is ready to go full speed ahead as soon as possible, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, is hitting the pause button on reopening the state amid a “massive outbreak.”

Abbott is urging all Texas residents to stay home unless they absolutely have to go somewhere to try to corral the deadly virus that is rolling through the state like floodwaters indiscriminately affecting everything in its path.

If the Governor, who was once one of the most pro reopening advocates in the country, is saying it is time to slow down and stay home, sorry Jim, going to watch a baseball game is not an essential function.

To be fair, there are likely fans who will be willing to go to games and risk their health in order to see some baseball in a Ballpark so quiet you can hear a trash can drop. But, in order to have fans buying food and tchotchkes, you need to have, ticket takers to let the fans in, security to protect the fans, concession workers to make the food, workers to sell the food, and workers to man the cash registers at the gift shops.

Oh yeah, and you need to have workers to empty the trash cans that are full of the trash generated by those fans, as well as workers to disinfect the Ballpark from top to bottom to get ready for the next game. Perhaps the players can help with the cleanup since I hear they know their way around a trash can.

It really shouldn’t be a shock that the owner of the Astros is the most vocal in wanting fans and their money to return. His entire tenure has been one big monetizing of the ballpark. Who can forget the time the view of downtown was blocked by huge billboards that would make a Minor League Ballpark manager say, “that is a step too far.” Thankfully the eyesore was relocated prior to the 2014 season.
Photo R. Anderson

Each of the people who enter the Ballpark will run the risk of getting infected, and in turn, they run the risk of infecting others when they go home. I am sorry, but no helmet full of nachos, or team shirt, is worth that amount of risk.

If I do not want players in the Ballparks due to potential risk of virus spread, I definitely do not want fans adding to the number of potential super spreaders.

Of course, as noted last week, the Sugar Land Skeeters are also looking to host about 1,700 people a game in a mini summer four-team league they are running at Constellation Field starting in early July. It is entirely possible that Crane thought that if the Skeeters can make money during a pandemic, he should be able to as well. Any fans allowed at either Skeeters or Astros games would need to be socially distanced and wearing a mask.

I totally get it; people are tired of being locked up inside. I would love to run free outside the walls of the Gigaplex, eat fried catfish on my favorite restaurant patio with a half and half tea, and act like the world is back to the way it was in the olden days of pre-March 2020.

But wishing it to be true, and going out there and acting like it is true, does not make it true.

The only thing acting like everything is fine, and there is nothing to see here does, is risk my health, and the health of those I love and care about.

And yes, it even risks the health of those I don’t care about. But, I care enough about people I don’t care about to not want to get them sick either.

Based on his comments, billionaire Crane appears to care mostly about back filling his pockets like a money vault diving Scrooge McDuck. I am used to stories of sports owners trying to fleece taxpayers to get better deals on their Ballparks. Crane used those tactics when he was negotiating for a new Spring Training site for the Astros to share with the defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23 with up to 1,700 fans allowed inside the Ballpark for each game.
Photo R. Anderson

However, one could argue that being greedy about tax breaks on a Ballpark is far less Ebenezer Scrooge, pre-visit by the three spirits, then encouraging people to risk their health to watch a game in order for the owner to make a few bucks on food and souvenir sales.

Ultimately, Crane’s desire to have fans in the Ballpark could be declared dead on arrival by local officials in Houston and Harris County, who will most likely get the final say on allowing gatherings like fans at a ballgame.

Based on previous statements made by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, I am fairly convinced that Crane’s pitch to have fans at the games will, in the words of Harry Doyle in Major League will fall, “Just a bit outside.”

Still, the fact that the statement was even made in the middle of a pandemic, and on a day that Houston reported nearly 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, which is around 1.3 times higher than it was a week ago, either demonstrates Crane has a total lack of situational awareness, or is aware and has a total lack of empathy.

COVID-19 has killed over 122,000 Americans, and even the people who recover from it may end up with long-term effects, like holes in their lungs. That is not a political statement that is a medical fact.

Sadly, uniting against a common foe for the common good, does not seem so common anymore. At least that is the case when it comes to public health and COVID-19. The simple act of wearing a face covering, or mask, to protect others has turned into a litmus test of whether you vote blue or red. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida get it. Mitt Romney gets it. Masks save lives.

Even Governor Abbott is able to show that he needs to take the virus more seriously than he once did. It is time for everyone else, regardless of political affiliation to do the same. At the end of the day COVID-19 does not care if you vote red or blue. It also isn’t going to give anyone a day pass because they are tired of being inside and want to catch a ballgame and eat some nachos.

As for the comment made by Jim Crane, perhaps he was only kidding. I hear that is the thing people say these days after making a seriously tone-deaf remark in public.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Major League.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Sugar Land Skeeters Form A League of Their Own to Play Ball During Global COVID-19 Pandemic

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.

The idea of a four-team quick summer league sounds great on the surface. Of course, as one peels back the layers of the onion, they are reminded of the fact that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a virus with no known cure or standard treatment.

The news of the league comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas continues to rise to record numbers on a daily basis. As a result of the rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations, some businesses that had reopened, like bank lobbies, are starting to close again.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.
Photo R. Anderson

With that in mind, the team ownership noted when they announced the league that they would be working with local and state health officials to provide as safe of an environment as possible for fans, staff and players.

Among the steps being taken is following the guidelines from the state of Texas as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in regards to stadium capacity and social distancing. Players will be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week, as well as prior to their arrival in Sugar Land.

In regards to fans in attendance, the plan calls Constellation Field to allow up to 25 percent of its 7,500-seat capacity to be full for each of the planned 56 games in the season.

According to a press release from the Skeeters, there will be a total of seven games played at Constellation Field each week from the Opening Day on July 3 through the conclusion of the season on Aug. 23. The schedule is subject to change, but single games are anticipated to be played on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and doubleheaders will be played on Saturday and Sunday.

The names for the four teams have yet to be announced. In the spirit of helpfulness might I suggest such timely names as, the Pandemics, the Social Distancers, the COIVD-19’s, and the Doc Faucis.

The four teams will be managed by Skeeters manager Pete Incaviglia, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens (along with his son Koby), and former Cleveland Indians pitcher Greg Swindell. The fourth team will be led by a manager to be named later. It should be noted that both Roger and Koby Clemens played for the Skeeters.

Former Sugar Land Skeeters player Koby Clemens will manage one of the four teams in the Skeeters Summer League alongside is father, Roger.
Photo R. Anderson

Open tryouts for the league are scheduled to take place at Constellation Field on June 24. It is expected that the teams will consist of former Major Leaguers and an assortment of professional players who’ve appeared at affiliated minor league levels as well as independent leagues.

Despite the best efforts of social distancing and testing, it is extremely likely that there will be people associated with the league who contract COVID-19. In the event that occurs, team officials have noted that the show will go on as the league takes the posture of accepting a certain level of risk in order to play baseball.

This is the magic question faced by all sports leagues, and in fact all individuals, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How much risk is one willing to take in order to do the things that were done in the olden days of pre-March 2020?

The answer depends on the individual’s level of comfort, as well as whether the individual involved belongs to one of the identified high-risk categories of greater susceptibility to the virus.

Years ago I saw this sign at a Pensacola Pelicans game. It is unknown whether the tickets to the Sugar Land Skeeters Summer League games will include small print waiver language stating that fans in attendance assume both the risk of getting hit in the head by a foul ball, as well as assuming all risk if they contract COVID-19 at the ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

It is unknown whether the tickets to the games will include small print waiver language stating that fans in attendance assume both the risk of getting hit in the head by a foul ball, as well as assuming all risk if they contract COVID-19 at the ballpark.

I can picture the wording going something like this, “Sorry folks, you can’t sue us for getting sick. The lime green mosquito up front should have told you that.”

The Skeeters are not alone in trying to find creative uses for their Ballparks this season. According to the ALPB, the High Point Rockers, Long Island Ducks, and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs are working with several professional baseball clubs, towards finalizing a 70-game schedule of play that would begin in mid-July and wrap up at the end of September with a five-game championship series.

Other ALPB teams that are not able to host baseball games due to crowd size limitations in their regions are hosting movie and music festivals in their Ballparks as a means to generate revenue.

And of course, Major League Baseball is still trying to hammer out an agreement to play baseball without fans in attendance for the 2020 season.

Personally, I would love to see baseball at all levels sit the season out. I do not believe the short-term gains of unfurling those Opening Day banners in 2020 outweigh the long-term risks to player health, as well as overall league health.

The last thing anyone should want to do is have a short term pebble drop ripple turn in to a tsunami with unforeseen consequences down the road. One should not sell their soul for a shortened season.

And just because a Ballpark is open, it does not mean that fans need to go to it. If the movie Field of Dreams was filmed in the era of COVID-19 it is likely that the voice heard in the corn field would tell Ray Kinsella to “build it and they will come after the threat of the COVID-19 virus has been eliminated by the invention of either a vaccine or a therapeutic treatment.”

After all, those players may have been ghosts, but they were certainly in a high-risk category based on their ages. Speaking of that Iowa corn field, the New York Yankees and Chicago White White Sox are scheduled to play each other at a temporary ballpark adjacent to the field from the movie on August 13. It is unknown whether the game will be played, and if it is whether the people will be allowed to come, or if only the corn will have ears to hear the game.

Baseball, and the rest of life as we knew it in the golden days of pre 2020 will hopefully return next year. We will reach the other side, and when we do, the Ballparks will once again be full of fans and games of dizzy bat. Until then, teams and leagues will continue to seek creative solutions to “go the distance” as they navigate uncharted waters like a 21st century Lewis and Clark to ease our collective pain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about shortened summer baseball leagues has me in the mood to watch Summer Catch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson