The bats have gone silent for all of Minor League Baseball because of the ongoing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Affiliates will have to scramble to make up some revenue this summer and then look ahead to players hopefully getting back on the field in 2021.
“Obviously it’s sad news for our staff and fans,” said Chris Bitters, general manager of Delmarva Shorebirds. “… Obviously it’s understandable with everything that’s going on, but even though it’s still a sad time for everybody, we’ll get through it and we’ll be fine moving forward.”
Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, Md., is a popular venue that can be utilized for other events, and Bitters is preparing to capitalize on those opportunities. The Shorebirds organization plans to host some travel-ball tournaments along with other events, such as graduations, that can’t be held indoors. The team is also looking into a fireworks night and outdoor dinners under the social-distancing guidelines.
Once Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan opened up outdoor activities, the team was inundated with phone calls and emails from people asking about different types of events
“Of course, we’re not going to make up what we’ve lost and what we’ll be losing — that’s just the reality for any business — but today, you can look at a restaurant or anywhere else and look at what they’ve lost and are losing,” Bitters said. “There’s no one way to make that back. So, we just deal with it. We’ve got good ownership. We’ve got good management, so we’re looking at this as a long-term thing, so we’re going to take care of our fans, first and foremost.”
The Bowie Baysox have felt the full brunt of the pandemic. All of the team’s revenue comes through ticket and advertising sales, according to Adam Pohl, the team’s corporate sponsorship account manager.
“The financial challenges are dire at the minor-league level,” Pohl said. “All 2020 sales pre-pandemic are being moved to the 2021 season. So it’s a completely lost season. We have had to lay off employees and with a quarter of our industry being contracted most likely into 2021, my estimate is that well over half of full-time minor league executives have been let go or furloughed nationwide.
“It’s hard to wrap your mind around that kind of attrition in our industry.”
The Baysox are remaining active in the local community. They’ve hosted Zoom activities with some players, coaches and personalities. That’s worked out well.
“We are trying to still be a beacon for the community,” Pohl said. “We had a very successful chicken sale that aided local food banks. We are trying to host other safe events at the stadium in the months that remain in 2020, although we are not there yet due to COVID-19.
“But unlike most businesses in our shoes that won’t be able to survive this pandemic — we will. That is the forest from the trees for us. We will feel this pain for years to come. But we will be here in 2021 and beyond.”
Minor leaguers are paid by the parent club, and the Orioles have compensated their minor leaguers through this lost summer. The top prospects in the system will more than likely be involved in the Orioles’ taxi squad camp, which will give them time to scrimmage and practice. There is also talk of an expanded fall league to get the players live-game action.
“But for the majority of minor league players losing a season is a crushing blow to proving you can be a big leaguer. It will be hard to rebound from and will end many baseball careers,” Pohl said.
The Aberdeen IronBirds are also being creative to make up for the lost season with alternative community events, according to general manager Jack Graham. For the Fourth of July, the IronBirds are collaborating with local officials and local sponsors to provide a free drive-in “Independence Day Fireworks Celebration.”
“We hope to have other events throughout the summer and fall, and may do things like movies on the video board, family picnic days, and anything else we can do to make sure our facility is adequately used by the community,” Graham said. “Additionally, we would like to work with local businesses and community organizations to do private events, like the upcoming Home Runs for the Homeless charity fundraiser to benefit Harford Family House.”
All of the teams remain optimistic fans will return in 2021. The hope is the pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime event and that life will eventually return to normal. But that does not make today’s challenges any less daunting.
“It’s our hope to use community events, season seat member events, email, phone and social media to stay engaged with our fans and partners,” Graham said. “It’s a hard time to be a large-scale entertainment venue, but we very much hope that our fans will remain enthusiastic about supporting their hometown Aberdeen IronBirds into 2021 and beyond.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Aberdeen IronBirds