Suburbs' minor, independent league baseball teams face dilemmas of 2020 season
Minor and independent league baseball teams in the suburbs have been inevitably affected by the COVID-19 outbreak this spring, though not all have made official a postponement of their opening days.
For the Kane County Cougars, the Geneva-based minor league team now affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks, their 29th opening day should have been last Thursday.
A message posted on the team's website by Cougars Vice President and General Manager Curtis Haug says the health and well-being of fans, staff, partners, players and the community is the club's top priority.
"We have provided a clean, safe and secure place for awesome family entertainment since 1991 and we will continue to do so," Haug wrote. "We completely support all of the decisions made by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), our local government officials, Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball to help restrain the COVID-19 virus."
The independent Frontier League, in which the Schaumburg Boomers play, announced on April 1 the indefinite delay of its scheduled May 14 start.
Many other questions remain regarding the 2020 season, Boomers General Manager Michael Larson said.
"We are in a holding pattern where there isn't much we can do until the scope of this is in place," he said. "We'll be ready to go when it's safe to proceed."
And that, he added, is more of a public health decision than one that would fall on the management of the Frontier League. The league is an example of not only interstate, but also international commerce, since games are played in Canada as well, Larson said.
And unlike the majors, playing games in an empty stadium for TV revenue isn't an option for independent league clubs.
"It needs to be safe for us to have 4,000 people at a game," Larson said.
Another factor is how much lead time the team will have when it does get started. Larson is anticipating five to six weeks, which he believes should be sufficient to get the season's stadium staff hired, fill some gaps in the team's roster, and get the players ready to play ball after only being able to work out at home.
"A guy can't go from sitting on a couch for two months to throwing a baseball at 90 mph," Larson said.
Another possible obstacle could be the availability of players who come from overseas, like Japan and the Dominican Republican. Their home countries and the U.S. would have to agree they could travel.
What Larson is perhaps least concerned about is the state of Boomers Stadium, which largely completed its offseason maintenance before COVID-19 restrictions were called for last month.
"The ballpark looks fantastic," he said. "The stadium, for the most part, is ready to play baseball."
Both the Boomers and the Chicago Dogs in Rosemont had their home openers set for Friday, May 22. But while the Boomers would have been playing on the road for a week before that, the still scheduled game in Rosemont would be the Dogs' first of the season.
Shawn Hunter, owner of the Dogs, said he and his fellow team owners in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball have been meeting weekly by video conference to discuss the outlook for the season and decided not to commit to any schedule changes until near the end of April.
He said one of the nice things about the league is that it plays a relatively compact season from Memorial Day to Labor Day and has a similarly short spring training.
"As a group, we remain optimistic that there'll be baseball played this summer," Hunter said. "We do have a little bit of time, and some flexibility to go into September if we have to."