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

Pondering What My Dream Ballpark Would Look Like

The other day I was asked to describe what my dream Ballpark would consist of, if money were no object, and I could include anything that I wanted inside it.

I have always hated questions like that. Not because I do not have a vivid imagination; I can dream big along with the rest of them. No, I hate questions like that because it usually involves a scenario where one ignores reality and instead focus on a utopian vision of what could be, without first providing a plan to address what is.

Dodger Stadium is the third oldest MLB Ballpark. Instead of getting replaced for something shiner, it is undergoing renovations to ensure that the view from the ravine remains intact. If only they could do something about the drive to the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Too often Ballparks are torn down, or abandoned in place in the prime of their useful life because an owner wants to add some new luxury boxes, or other revenue generating avenues, instead of trying to make the Ballpark they were dealt with better.

That is not to say that money should not be spent to maintain Ballparks. Money will always be an object, but just throwing money at a situation does not make it better, since the root cause of the problem is always there just below the surface.

Ballparks, like life, are messy. They involve many moving parts and elements. Each element is fine by itself, but when they are joined together for a single purpose, they are even greater.

Take for example a hot dog. Hot dogs are tasty just about anywhere, and are one of my guilty food pleasures. But a hot dog inside a Ballpark is always just a bit more enjoyable.

Over the past five years I have had the privilege of eating many Dodger Dogs. You know if you are going to erect a statue to the dog, it must be good.
Photo R. Anderson

So, in my dream Ballpark scenario, hot dogs would be affordable for everyone, regardless of whether they were rooting for, or against, the home team. And of course the condiments to put on the hot dog would include everything one could think of.

Of course, fans would need a safe place to eat that hot dog. So, in my dream Ballpark every seat would include a folding airline style seat tray.

Seriously, how has no one ever thought of this? Ballpark seats are getting about as small as airline seats, and the average time of a game and flights are pretty similar. So why not include a tray for eating?

The seat back tray tables would serve another purpose besides providing a flat surface to eat on and keep score on. Much like the tray table on an airplane deters people in the window seat from crawling over the other two people in the row to form a line at the lavatory, the Ballpark trays would force people to actually sit and watch the game.

Baseball has parts that are hard to watch, and people like shiny objects and can be easily distracted. But you came to a Ballpark to watch a game, so sit down and watch the game until the captain turns off the fasten seat-belt sign.

One of my biggest pet peeves at the Ballpark is people who talk the entire game and pay very little attention to what is going on between the foul poles.

I highly recommend the King’s Hawaiian Dodger Dog.
Photo R. Anderson

Inside the confines of my dream Ballpark it would be well known that while sports can provide a distraction for a few hours, along with tasty, reasonably priced hot dogs, they cannot replace the need for real dialog around the water cooler outside of the Ballpark on a variety of issues gripping the world.

From a sports perspective, many people dig in their heels and consider their team to be the best, and despise people who wear a different uniform than their beloved home team. This attitude can be tricky to maintain when someone’s favorite player gets traded to one of those dreaded other teams. Does one suddenly turn on the player that they cheered for until they grew hoarse just because, through no fault of their own, they were sent to another team? Or, do they remember the good times and realize that we are more than the uniforms we wear?

So, in my dream Ballpark, all of the fans would be given special glasses that made all of the uniforms on the field look the same. This way, people can just enjoy the game without worrying about who is wearing what uniform, and whether they hate that player just because they wear a uniform different from their own. The glasses would also cut down on the heckling and harassing of fans of other teams inside the Ballpark since all of the clothes in the stands would also be the same color through the lenses.

In my dream Ballpark, all of the fans would be given special glasses that made all of the uniforms on the field look the same. This way, people can just enjoy the game without worrying about who is wearing what uniform, and whether they hate that player just because they wear a uniform different from their own.
Photo R. Anderson

By seeing the game through the same colored lens, the man-made differences and barriers disappear and suddenly everyone is the same and can enjoy the ball game together. If only the glasses were able to work outside of the Ballpark as well.

Even if baseball resumes this year, it is going to be awhile before people are back inside Ballparks. So, my recommendation is that now would be a good time to listen to your neighbor and see what the world looks like from their perspective, even without the special Ballpark glasses. Really take the time to listen to them, from a social distance due to COVID-19 perspective, but not from a social distance from an empathy point of view.

Throughout my career I have been fortunate to interview many people from all walks of life, and can safely say that from my experience we are all way more similar than we are different when one takes the time to really listen.

Over the past few months, I have been thinking a lot about the Native American story of the two wolves. There are several variations of the story. My favorite version is noted below.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Pondering about dream Ballparks is certainly a distraction from the current state of the world, but deciding which wolf to feed is a much better use of one’s time and effort. May each of us always strive to feed the right wolf as we await the return of some semblance of normalcy, while also knowing that we have much work to do on numerous fronts when the world reopens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a wolf to feed. I wonder if he likes hot dogs.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Pomp, Circumstance, and Some Words in Between for the Class of COVID-19

Tis the season when new graduates of all shapes and sizes will enter the world. Some will enter the workforce and start the task of paying off student loans, that are in some cases are way more money than what their incomes of their chosen fields will cover.

Others will continue adding to those student loans by going to graduate school, or culinary school, or any other thing with school in the title, in order to delay the clock on paying off those student loans.

For others, this is the time to graduate from high school and start the journey to college and the accumulation of those aforementioned student loans.

It is the time of year where students of all ages will be sporting graduation bling like this medal.
Photo R. Anderson

While the season of commencement occurs every year, at every level of education, graduation for the Class of 2020 will be unlike anything witnessed in modern times thanks to the COVID-19 virus.

While graduations of olden times, say like last year, included such things as large gatherings of family and friends to celebrate what should be one of the happiest days in a graduate’s life, many high school and college seniors were robbed of that face to face celebration. In many cases, the graduating seniors were also robbed of the last two months of in person school, and all of the activities that go along with that, as school were forced to transition to remote learning.

As part of the move to remote activities, schools have gotten creative in how they honor their graduates. In Texas, one principal drove to the house of each of the graduating seniors to deliver the diploma directly to the graduate. Some NASCAR tracks even opened up to allow socially distanced graduation ceremonies with graduates spaced six feet apart on the track.

Texas Motor Speedway, shown here back when the world was open, hosted socially distanced high school graduations for the class of 2020 during the time of COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

Other schools went forward with their usual graduation plans, albeit with fewer people allowed in the audience to witness the pomp and circumstance, and to hear the commencement address.

Several television networks even banded together and aired a celebrity filled graduation ceremony to help usher the graduating Class of 2020 into their new socially distanced, unsure what the future holds, massive unemployment, and massive student debt lives.

Although it is the season for commencement addresses, for some reason no one asked me to give a speech to any graduating classes this year. Of course, truth be told, that has been the case for many years, but that is certainly not for lack of trying on my part. I guess schools thought that Tom Hanks, and Barrack Obama were better choices. While I cannot argue with that, I did hold out hope that this would be the year that I got the call.

Ever since my high school graduation I have thought that it would be nice to help send a graduating class off into uncharted waters armed with my words of wisdom and encouragement.

Commencement speakers hold a special place in the memories of graduates and I have wanted to add my name to that fraternity of memorable speakers.

My high school and college graduation ceremonies were both held in a smaller building behind the one pictured. I did take pictures with my family after both ceremonies outside on what would now be considered center court of the new arena.
Photo R. Anderson

Why I remember my commencement speaker in college just like it was yesterday. I mean, I remember what he looked like, and some of what he said. I am sure if I dug up my commencement program I could even find his name.

So, I wanted to be that person that students look back on with fond memories of inspirational words.

During my career working at a college I attended many graduations. I served as the official photographer for several of them. I even attended graduations inside a state prison which I must say is a rather interesting occurrence, as one might expect. Still despite my waiting in the bullpen to step up if the speaker had to cancel for illness, or inability to fit into their cap and gown, my number was never called.

In the event that my number was called, I envision a typical conversation of people reflecting on those inspirational words going something like this.

Chad: Boy, that was such a good speech that old what’s his name gave at our graduation.

Tad: We had a speaker at our graduation?

Okay, so the commencement speaker is not remembered by everyone. I think part of that has to do with graduation caps cutting off blood flow to the brain. I have no proof of this, but it is a pretty logical explanation if you ask me.

Still, despite the short-term memories of graduates, I thought for sure that this would be the year that I would get the call to share my insights with graduating seniors. I mean I could zoom right in, give a little speech, and zoom right out. I wouldn’t even have to wear pants under my gown.

As a side note, to this day, not being able to wear shorts under my gown when I graduated both high school and college in Florida still doesn’t make any sense. I mean gowns are not made out of the most breathable fabrics and some of those speakers can just go on and on. But I digress, now, where was I?

Oh yes, despite my willingness to throw a gown on over my shorts, alas the phone did not ring, and I was left with a speech and no audience to hear it.

Across the world, the Class of 2020 has seen many traditional in person milestones like a large graduation ceremony on the 50-yard line of a football stadium transformed into remote experiences thanks to COVID-19.
Graphic R. Anderson

No worries though, I will just share a version of my remarks dedicated for pomp and circumstance here. Of course, this is the abridged non honorary degree conferring version. I need to leave something out just in case I get called to the big time. Oh, and please excuse the parenthetical notes in my rough draft.

So, without further ado here goes:

Students you are to be commended for your efforts in reaching this momentous occasion of (high school, college, preschool, clown school) graduation.

Looking out at all of your caps and gowns I am reminded how silly people look in caps and gowns. I mean seriously who came up with the idea of dressing up like Supreme Court justices as a way to commemorate graduation? But, at least unlike Supreme Court Justices, you only have to wear those things once.

This day marks the end of one chapter of your life and the beginning of another chapter. Albeit a scary journey into the unknown. But I am sure you will figure it out, if not we have another graduating class coming next year. (wait for laughter from audience, and delete this from future speeches if no one laughs)

Now is the time of your lives where you can have experiences that will last a lifetime. (Or at least last until the big asteroid comes and destroys us. Mental note, whatever you do, do not mention the asteroid. These graduates have been through enough without putting the fear of Bruce Willis in an orange jumpsuit into them. Mental note part two, did you see that Bruce Willis still fits in his jumpsuit from that movie that foretold of Armageddon, what was that movie called again?)

Don’t be afraid to step out on limbs occasionally and try new things. While the limbs will sometimes break, they will usually just bend.
Photo R. Anderson

Don’t be afraid to step out on limbs occasionally and try new things. While the limbs will sometimes break, they will usually just bend. (Except if the limbs are hit by an asteroid, I mean that sucker is just going to destroy everything in its path, just ask the dinosaurs. Oh, that’s right, the dinosaurs are gone because of a giant asteroid so they aren’t around to ask. Dude, seriously, enough about asteroids, focus.)

Never say, “I’ll never go to Graduate School, so it doesn’t matter what my GPA is.” Graduate School shows up when you least expect it, and yes, they do care about grade point average.

So, hats off to the graduating class of (insert year and school name).

In conclusion remember that life is a highway, and you want to ride it all night long. No wait, those are the lyrics to a really bad song.

Let me try again. Life is like a box of chocolates…no that isn’t quite right either. (I bet they would have laughed if Tom Hanks had said that line.)

In closing, I definitely do not envy the Class of 2020, and the new world that you are facing. Of course, it is out of this very adversity that great things can come. So, try new things, and get creative. Remember that your social distancing, and wearing of masks, saves your life, and the life of those around you. Take time to take care of yourselves, and each other. And no matter how dark the skies appear, remember that this will pass. (Unless the skies are darkened because a giant asteroid is heading our way.)

Think of it as your chance to usher in an enlightened Coronaissance. Whatever you do, do not think of those student loan payments that will start rolling in six months from now and blindside you like an asteroid hurtling down from the heavens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check in on my sourdough starter. I named him Doughy.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Editor’s note: No actual asteroids hurtling towards earth were observed during the writing of this column.