Dodgers Show That Even in a Global COVID-19 Pandemic Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Some Chin Music

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros faced off for the first time since the Astros were caught cheating with their hands in the proverbial trash can.

The cheating goes back to the 2017 season when the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series. Looking back at those games, an argument can definitely be made that the Dodgers could have added another oversized World Series Ring to their plaza of honor at Dodger Stadium had it not been for a video camera, a bat, and a trash can.

With many people thinking that the Astros players got off way too easily in terms of punishment for their cheating, the 2020 season was expected to be a season long opportunity for players and fans who felt wronged by the Astros to show their displeasure.

As I noted a few months back, the fan-free season during COVID-19 made the Astros the biggest winners of 2020, since fans cannot boo them when they come to town. On can only imagine how loud a completely full Dodger Stadium would have been with fans booing in unison with every Astros at bat.

A year after being cheated out of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years, a lone trash can is seen in front of a mural commemorating the titles the Dodgers have won. It is quite possible that were it not for the sounds coming off of a trash can, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a fresh coat of paint on the World Series title mural, as well as a new entry for 2017. Instead, they are left with wondering what might have been had the playing field been level.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans in Ballparks have been limited to cardboard representations, the players for the other teams are still free to enforce the unwritten rules of the game, which made the Astros versus Dodgers game must see TV.

After Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a pitch in the area of the head of Alex Bregman, and later taunted Carlos Correa in the sixth inning in game one of a two game series, a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl occurred.

For his part in the somewhat masked, but totally not socially distanced melee, Kelly was suspended for eight games by MLB. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a one-game suspension.

The Dodgers ended up with the last laugh as they won both games of the series by scores of 5-2 and 4-2, respectively.

While the Dodgers won the series, they also exposed the mismanagement of the cheating scandal by MLB. Yes, to be fair, three MLB managers lost their jobs due to ties to the scandal, and the Astros fired their General Manager. But many fans and players maintain that the punishment did not go far enough since former Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch, wasn’t the one playing a trash can in the dugout like a bass drum to let hitters know what pitch was coming.

Just to make sure this point comes across, players who were caught cheating for an entire season were given zero suspensions for their actions, but a pitcher for the team that many argue was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title is given an eight-game suspension. To put that in perspective, eight games equates to around 13 percent of the shortened season. Kelly has appealed his suspension.

Jose Altuve, and his 2017 Astros teammates, were found by MLB to have benefited from an intricate cheating technique that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can. While the world will never know whether the cheating is why the Astros won the World Series, the world does know that none of the players were punished for their actions during that season. That fact, as a lot of fans and players from other teams mad enough to kick a trash can.
Photo R. Anderson

These truly are strange and mysterious times, and show that in many ways MLB is just making things up as they go along. More on that thought in a bit.

The rules for the 2020 season outlaw bench clearing brawls. However, writing something in a health manual, and actually following what is written, are two entirely different things; as demonstrated by the fact that the dugouts and bullpens emptied in a fan-free Ballpark.

Besides the benches clearing brawl, players have been breaking the guidelines involving walk off celebrations, and high fives among other things.

But while MLB seems quick to enforce the rules for what it sees as retaliation pitches, it is downplaying the wildfire of COVID-19 that is inching closer to bringing the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

The Miami Marlins were suspended for an entire week after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted nearly 20 players and staff, however the teams not impacted by games against the Marlins were left to continue to play ball. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers became the latest teams to have games cancelled after two Cardinal players tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals and Brewers join the Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, and Yankees as teams who have had games either postponed or played with different opponents than scheduled.

That means that at the time of this writing, nearly a third of all MLB teams have been impacted by COVID-19.

In response to the growing list of games that will need to be rescheduled, MLB has decided that all doubleheaders will be 7-innings, instead of 9-innings, in order to cram as many games as possible into the schedule in their drive to crown a World Series Champion. Nothing like changing the rules of a season after the season has started.

While they are at it, why not just have all games decided by a home run derby? The Sugar Land Skeeters are using home run derbies to settle extra inning games in their four-team, fans in the stand independent baseball summer league.

If MLB needs to crown a champion in order to call the season a success, why bother with the games? Just line the teams up for a home run derby to decide who the best team is? After all, launch angles and the long ball seem to be all the rage these days.

I will take it a step further and say that a home run derby approach can even eliminate team travel. Just have retired pitchers travel to the Ballparks and throw batting practice to decide the games. Teams can choose from a selection of retired pitchers and the same pitcher has to pitch to both teams to make it fair.

Of course, with different ballparks having different outfield dimensions considerations will need to be made for how to assign a weight to each home run.

Maybe, teams can be reward style points for launch angle.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks below appeared in USA Today in early July, and are chilling when looked at through the lens of hindsight after a week of MLB action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle. “We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are and their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re just like trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve or whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Since Doolittle made that statement in early July, the COVID-19 death toll in America has risen by 23,000 to over 153,000 dead and counting, with no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, there are those who will say, “But hey, at least two thirds of the MLB teams haven’t missed any games yet, and the MLB has shown that it is going to come down hard on pitchers who throw at members of the trash can symphony club.”

Yes, there are live sports to watch now, and the NCAA seems determined to ensure that college football returns in the fall despite us not acting anything like a functional society. Why worry about a global pandemic when there are sports to watch?

Sometimes, real life truly is stranger than fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if my seeds from China arrived. As crazy as the world is getting, they may grow a magic bean stalk. But that is a story for another day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Common Sense is Becoming as Scarce as Cans and Coins During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The other day I was reading a story about how grocery stores were no longer going to be able to give out change to customers due to a national coin shortage.

Yes, that’s right, not only can the richest nation in the world not get their act together regarding corralling a deadly virus, it seems that they cannot bring enough coins to market.

Of course, the usual conspiracy (or is it coin-spiracy?) enthusiasts are tweeting up a storm claiming that the lack of coins is a “Deep State” plot to create a cashless society. I know the First Amendment gives people the right to think and say what they want, but some of the things some people say just make me shake my head in disbelief.

Not only is there a shortage of supplies needed in the battle against COVID-19. Now there is a nationwide coin shortage as well.
Photo R. Anderson

While I was still trying to wrap my mind around the coinpocalypse, I read another story about how not only are we out of coins, apparently the companies that make aluminum cans cannot keep up with the demand.

I would say that the aluminum shortage is due to too many people wearing tin foil hats, and inventing conspiracy theories about coins, but the truth is, there is plenty of aluminum. There just aren’t enough plants to turn that aluminum into cans to keep up with consumer demand.

As a result of the can shortage, several beverage companies noted that certain brands of product might not be available. But hey, at least toilet paper made a return to the shelves.

Normally, a nationwide coin shortage, paired with a nationwide shortage of aluminum cans, would be enough for any given week. But this has not been any given week.

A third story also caught my eye this week, showing me that coins, cans and common sense are all in short supply.

No, I am not talking about people potentially breaking ethics rules by posing with cans of beans behind a desk that was built from the English oak timbers of the British Arctic exploration ship HMS Resolute, in an office that is broadly elliptical and/or egg shaped.

I am talking about a lack of common sense on the baseball diamond.

As I have noted many times, even though I am a lifelong baseball fan, I do not think baseball, or any sport, needs to come back in the middle of a global pandemic that has, at the time of this writing, killed over 138,000 Americans.

To put that into perspective, 138,000 people would roughly be the equivalent of 287 completely full Boeing 747 airliners crashing on an island with a polar bear and John Locke. Or, for those of you who did not watch Lost, 138,000 people would fill three and a half Major League Ballparks.

No matter how you slice it, it is not a political statement to say that 138,000 deaths, occurring at a rate of roughly 27,000 deaths a month, is too many. We should be doing everything we can as a united society to ensure that we are part of the solution and not the problem.

Which brings me back to the baseball diamond. Earlier this week in Texas, Fort Bend County joined neighboring Harris County in elevating their threat level to Red Alert, and issued a “Stay at Home to Save Lives” order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Right about now, as Fatboy Slim would say, you are asking yourself what does Fort Bend County have to do with a baseball diamond?

Well, since you asked, Fort Bend County is where the Sugar Land Skeeters are currently hosting a four-team summer league with fans in the stands.

So, when I heard that County Judge KP George joined Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in calling for everyone to stay home “and make sacrifices if our whole community is to remain healthy and intact,” I thought for sure that the Sugar Land Skeeters would be sending out a press release saying that the league was cancelled as a result of the Judge’s order.

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

Alas, that press release never came, and the league is still going strong.

Common sense would say that if the spread of a virus is so bad that County Judges are asking people to “Protect yourself and your family by staying at home except for essential activities, wear required face covering, and cancel gatherings,” that a baseball league would stop playing games.

Last time I checked, playing baseball is not an essential activity, and having fans in the stands watching baseball counts as a gathering and is equally non-essential.

Instead of sending a cancellation notice the team sent a tweet stating, “We’ve got LOTS of sweet giveaways in store for this weekend!”

While anyone who knows me knows that I love a sweet Ballpark giveaway, the idea that baseball is still being played when the people of the county the Ballpark is located in are being asked to stay home comes across as both selfish and tone death to the situation on the ground.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, I love watching the Skeeters play and when it is safe to do so again, I will be the first person in line to do just that.

Until then, I am doing my part to slow the spread by following medical and scientific advice from reputable sources. This advice includes wearing a mask and socially distancing. It also involves avoiding unnecessary excursions, you know like to a Ballpark to watch a baseball game.

As I have said many times, COVID-19 does not care who you voted for. Wearing a mask saves lives and is not some attempt to squelch a person’s freedom. You know what does squelch a person’s freedom? Being dead because you called COVID-19 a hoax, and refused to wear a mask and ended by succumbing to the virus.

I have great respect for the essential workers who are keeping the country going. I am grateful to the men and women working at the grocery store to ensure that I can pull up curbside and have my groceries put in my car.

After declaring Texas open in three gradual phases beginning in May, and seeing COVID-19 cases in the state rise up like a bottle rocket nearly every day since reopening, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, noted in a June 22 press conference that, “COVID-19 is spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas,” and that, “We must corral it.”
Photo R. Anderson

I am grateful to all of the health care workers on the front lines of trying to get a handle on COVID-19.

I pray daily for the safety of each and every person who is out there keeping the essential functions of society going while allowing the rest of us to work from home.

Because of my respect for essential workers, I am not going to do anything to put myself in a situation where I can get exposed to COVID-19 and risk spreading it.

And yes, I know that based on the ease in which COVID-19 spreads, one cannot completely avoid the potential of encountering the virus. However, I am certainly limiting my activities to make sure I am not putting myself at added risk of getting exposed to the virus.

I get that not everyone shares that view. I also get that sports are coming back despite growing infection rates coast to coast. As a result, many athletes are testing positive both inside and outside of sports bubbles.

This COVID-19 virus has already led to a shortage of coins, cans and common sense among other things. If we aren’t careful, and continue at our current pace, COVID-19 could cause a shortage of hospital beds, and health care workers to take care of us as well.

Is going to a baseball game worth putting all of that at risk? I know how I am going to answer that question and I don’t even need to flip a coin. What about you?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some coins to count.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Sugar Land Skeeters set to Embark on Grand Social Experiment in the Name of Playing Baseball in a Pandemic

After delaying the start of their four-team summer league by a week, the Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), remain committed to welcoming fans to the Ballpark and kicking off the league on July 10, 2020.

It should be noted that the COVID-19 virus spike that led to the one-week delay in the league start is even steeper than it was on July 3. The virus did not dissipate in the Texas heat given an extra seven days. Additionally, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, issued an executive order mandating that masks must be worn in public, while also admitting that perhaps the state reopened too soon, and that it was a mistake to allow bars to reopen.

Furthermore, the league will be starting up before any additional spike in cases brought about by July 4th gatherings has been fully accounted for.

After delaying the start of their four-team summer league by a week, the Sugar Land Skeeters remain committed to welcoming fans to the Ballpark and kicking off the league on July 10, 2020 despite rises cases of COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

So, with a virus raging out of control within the community, the four-team league comprised of the Sugar Land Skeeters (Managed by Pete Incaviglia), Team Texas (Managed by Roger and Koby Clemens), the Sugar Land Lightning Sloths (Managed by Greg Swindell), and the Eastern Reyes del Tigre (Managed by Dave Eiland) are set to play ball in the middle of a global pandemic.

From a purely scientific data collecting standpoint, the league has the potential to provide great insight into whether one can play baseball with fans in the stands in a COVID-19 hot spot, and not have a majority of people who attend the games get sick. It is likely to also provide insight into how one can eat popcorn and nachos while wearing a mask.

From a purely human perspective, it seems grossly irresponsible to move ahead with the league given the current climate in the state with health systems tasked to the near breaking point trying to care for people getting sick. Creating events with thousands of people potentially in attendance just does not seem prudent.

Even though players will be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week, fans will have to pass a temperature check at the gate before being allowed in, that does not stop people from potentially infecting people on the field, and while they wait for the gates to open.

Major League Baseball (MLB), which is dealing with players testing positive before the season has even begun, is likely to take notice to see what kinds of things will happen in the Skeeters League. MLB still plans a return at the end of July for their 60-games in 66 days mini season, despite an inability to test all players before opening some training sites.

I am not a fortune teller, although I have eaten a lot of fortune cookies. With that in mind, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that people are going to get sick as a result of the Skeeters league.

I am also going to crawl further out on the limb and say that if MLB moves forward with their season, many players are going to get sick. Some players may see their careers cut short due to COVID-19 complications.

By inviting fans to see baseball in the middle of a pandemic the Sugar Land Skeeters are hoping the the oidds are forever in their favor as they tempt fate in a social experiment that MLB and other leagues are likely to pay very close attention to as they try to stage their return to action.
Photo R. Anderson

The risk of catching the virus, as well as complications causing problems down the line, has been cited by several high-profile players who have decided to sit out the 2020 MLB season. The risk trade of playing baseball, versus staying home do not come out with a value that they are willing to live with by playing ball.

Of course, the counter argument to that is that people are going to get sick anyway. So, why not have a little fun and see some baseball if we are all doomed to catch the disease? The so called, “might as well just live with it” narrative is gaining steam among certain population groups.

The two sides entrenched in the COVID-19 battle have been reminding me a lot lately of the story of the two frogs and the bucket of milk. For those of you who may not have heard that story, or for those needed a refresher the fable goes as so:

Two young frogs fell into a bucket of milk. Both tried to jump to freedom, but the sides of the bucket were steep and no foundation was to be had on the surface of the liquid.

Seeing little chance of escape, the first frog soon despaired and stopped jumping. After a short while, he sank to the bottom of the bucket and drowned.

The second frog also saw no likelihood of success, but he never stopped trying. Even though each jump seemed to reach the same inadequate height, he kept on struggling. Eventually, his persistent efforts churned some milk into butter. From the now hardened surface of the milk, he managed to leap out of the bucket.

In many ways, people’s response to COVID-19 is similar to that of the two frogs. On one hand, you have the people who are going to do whatever they want since they think that the virus is going to get them anyway. Worse, they think that they are immune to catching the virus. More deadly are the people who have been programed to think that the virus is a hoax.

The two sides entrenched in the COVID-19 battle remind me of the story of the two frogs and the bucket of milk.
Photo R. Anderson

The other camp of frogs sees that the virus is out there, and they know that there is a chance that they might get it. However, they are going to do everything they can to avoid getting it. This includes social distancing, wearing masks, and you know avoiding large gatherings like indoor conventions, and even outdoor baseball games.

Based on the number of COVID-19 cases in America, where over 131,000 people have died, it seems like we have more of the go out and do whatever you want frogs, compared to other countries who seem to have more frogs looking out for each other.

In many ways, it would have been fitting for one of the teams in the Sugar Land Skeeters league to be nicknamed the Frogs, although I will admit that I totally want a Lightning Sloth shirt.

Therein lies the rub, in almost any other year I would be stoked at the idea of a summer baseball league with double headers every weekend, and four teams battling for a title that the winner never has to defend. I would be the first one in line when the gates opened and I would soak up the sun and eat my weight in hot dogs.

There are also some great promotional items being offered at the games that, in any other year, I would make a bee line to get. Hello, Lightning Sloth Rally Sloth Claws.

But this isn’t any other year, and no matter how much we want to wish the COVID-19 virus away, the simple fact is that it is not going away until there is a vaccine. Those are the hard facts.

And, no matter how much I want to see live baseball in a Ballpark, eat a hot dog, drink Dr Pepper, and wear foam sloth fingers, I just cannot justify doing those activities based on all of the science I have heard about how the virus works.

While my opinion has been stated many times, and in many ways, that I would prefer to see baseball at all levels return next year, instead of putting people at risk, I do not have anything against the people who do choose to go to the Ballpark this year. I will just not be one of them.

I just hope that their decision to gather together does not cause the spread of the virus to increase to the point that in a Kevin Bacon Seven Degrees of COVID-19 separation that I, or the people I care about, become infected because someone got tired of social distancing and wanted to watch baseball in a Ballpark, or have a barbecue with friends, or any of the other virus spreading activities that we are not supposed to be engaged in right now.

So, I choose not to go watch live baseball in a Ballpark this year because I am taking care of my health, and looking out for the health of others.

We are all those frogs in the pail of milk, and we can decide which frog we want to be. As for me, I am choosing to make butter out of this situation.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about milk and butter has me craving some Kraft Dinner.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

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

 

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

With MLB Players and Owners no Longer Negotiating it is Best to Try Again Next Year

With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place.

Historically, the All Star Game marks the midpoint of the MLB season. This year, it is likely that any All Star Game played will take place after the conclusion of the season. Assuming that there is a season.

The blame game for why the season has yet to commence is in full swing. Players blame owners. Owners blame players. Over the weekend the MLB Player’s Association, and the MLB owners halted negotiations on what a 2020 season would look like and tossed the ball over to the Commissioner’s Office to end the stalemate. It seems like the only thing both sides can agree in is that COVID-19 is to blame.

Speaking of COVID-19, on June 16, 2020, Florida and Arizona, the regular season home of the Rays, Marlins and Diamondback, as well as the home of all 30 spring-training facilities, reported their highest single-day total of positive tests for the virus. The Sunshine State of Florida counted nearly 2,800 positive cases. The Grand Canyon State of Arizona tallied in at 2,400 new positive cases.

With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

In baseball terms, the launch angle for the COVID-19 spike in those states is headed for the upper decks and may clear the ballpark. Or, as Crash Davis, of Bull Durham fame, would say, “Man that ball got outta here in a hurry.”

In Texas, here at the gigaplex, we are also seeing daily increases in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths.

Overall, 17 U.S. states reported weekly increases in the spread of COVID-19, as well as an increase in the percentage of people tested who are positive. If the virus was stable, the percentage of people who test positive would remain stagnant regardless of how many people were tested. Higher percentages of positives mean that more people are catching the virus, not that more people are getting tested.

But you don’t have to take my world for it, just follow the science.

The COVID-19 virus is real. It is deadly. It is not going away any time soon. And no, despite what some people try to say, the virus will not just magically disappear if we stop testing people for it. Social distancing and wearing masks are the only ways to control the spread until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed.

Still, with rising numbers from sea to shining sea, there are still rumblings that what the world needs right now is baseball. Unless baseball is code for a vaccine, or therapeutic treatment, for the COVID-19 virus, I am pretty sure the last thing the world needs right now is baseball.

As I have said many times, and in many ways, I miss baseball. I want baseball to return. I want to go see new Ballparks. I want to revisit old Ballparks. I want to eat hot dogs in the club level of Constellation Field next to a lime green mosquito mascot named Swatson.

I miss baseball, but I am perfectly content to have the 2020 Season cancelled, and wait for a return to action in the spring of 2021. One of my first stops when baseball does return next spring will be Publix Field in Lakeland, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

So, when I say sit this season out to the MLB powers that be, I am not saying it as someone who could take or leave baseball. I am saying it as someone who loves baseball but also sees little value in a regular season lasting about as long as the postseason. Proceeding with baseball at this point will likely do more harm than good for the baseball brand.

The owners will say that baseball needs to happen this year in order for people to not forget about it. The owners will also say that they need a long postseason lasting deep into October so they can make money from the television rights.

But having a 50-60 game MLB regular season, and then going to the postseason, stains the spirit of the game worse than a steroid tainted home run record chase, or a trash can banging World Series run.

It is okay to sit this one out baseball. One of the worst things that can happen is to force a season to occur and then see a majority of the big-name players sit the season out in order to protect their health.

While MLB still tries to decide if a 2020 season will occur, the NBA is set to resume their season July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. All eligible playoff teams will be kept in three hotels and will play all of their games inside the borders of Disney World.
Photo R. Anderson

Why would a player risk their health from both the COVID-19 virus, or a freak injury, for an abbreviated season at prorated pay if they have the means to sit out four months and return to Spring Training in February of next year?

Still, the MLB powers that be seem determined to proceed regardless of the consequences, or the optics. Instead of following the herd and just being another sport to try and play, while hoping their star players do not get sick, MLB has a chance to be the sport that puts safety over profit if they choose.

When I was the Sports Information Director for a college, one of my main tasks was helping coaches and athletic department personnel craft statements and stay on message. I always told the people I was working with to consider the long-term impact of their words, and to not look at short term gratification. I also told them to make sure they knew the temperature of the room. If I was tasked with advising MLB during this current climate, I would suggest they release the following statement:

“We have the best fans in the world and we want more than anything to get back to work giving you our best effort on the field and off. COVID-19 gave us all a gut punch and forced the early termination of Spring Training. As much as we want to return to the game we love, the numbers of the virus infections just do not support us playing right now. Even with all of the safety precautions we have outlined, we cannot rule out members of the MLB family getting sick. It would be irresponsible for us to risk spreading the disease by traveling from city to city just to play games in empty ballparks without you our cherished fans there to cheer us on.

The short-term desire of playing baseball in 2020 cannot cloud our vision. The long-term health and safety of our players, trainers and other team employees is far more important to us than trying to rush things in order to try to squeeze in a season this year just to say we had a 2020 season. We will return when the science tells us it is safe to do so. Until then, take care of yourselves, and our players and staff will do the same. Stay home, stay safe. Wear a mask if you have to go out and about, and we will see you next year if it is safe to do so.”

I would then include a link on the press release to the official team masks of MLB which allow fans to show their team spirit, and keep their spit from going airborne.

Sadly, now that other professional sports have returned to action, it is likely adding to the pressure of the MLB to make this season work. Unfortunately, I think the desire to “play ball” will overcome the rationale to try again next year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to lollygag over to the kitchen and make a Ballpark inspired snack.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Baseball is Still Trying to Save Season as Other Sports Hit Cruise Control

As Major League Baseball’s owners and players continue to haggle over the parameters of what a 2020 season would look like in terms of number of games played and percentage of compensation, NASCAR and IndyCar are up and running, and the NBA is about to be up and running.

NASCAR which became the first major professional sports league to return to action last month, is set to hit another milestone on June 14 when it allows some fans into the track to see the action in person. Welcoming of fans into the facility comes with restrictions, and is also occurring during a time when nearly half of the states in the United States are seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 go up. It is also occurring as other states are being questioned about whether they are providing an accurate count of the total number of COVID-19 cases within their communities.

Make no mistake, these are truly uncharted waters, and the entire process is just one big wave away from capsizing faster than the ship in The Poseidon Adventure. Still, for many it is full steam ahead, into the great wide open.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26. While the main issues preventing the MLB from playing ball seem to be mostly financial, not all of the players are being affected the same way.

Established MLB players, and recently drafted Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players, can easily sit out the season if it comes down to it since for the most part their jobs are safe.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26.
Photo R. Anderson

For other players, a lost season could cost them their last chance to make it onto a Big-League roster and leave the long bus rides of MiLB behind.

I have been thinking a lot about those players in both affiliated and independent baseball lately. As I have noted several times before, I cut my Ballpark teeth by mostly watching Southern League baseball when I was growing up. In recent years, despite being located closer to an MLB Ballpark, than an Independent League Ballpark, I have found myself driving the extra 20 minutes and spending more time watching the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPA) than the Houston Astros.

Nothing says Ballpark fun quite like a mascot adjacent box seat near the dugout. Isn’t that right Swatson?
Photo R. Anderson

For me, Minor League Baseball is a purer form of the game and allows me to be closer to the field for the same price as a nosebleed ticket at an MLB Ballpark. With Minor League Ballparks being about a third of the size of their Major League counterparts, one can really get up close and personal to the action.

Unfortunately, those Minor League players that I enjoy watching the most are the ones who are finding uncertain futures, as well as uneasy presents. To their credit many MLB teams and players have offered to pay the salaries of the players in their farm systems. However, with efforts to reduce the number of MiLB teams, as well as reducing the number of players drafted, in the coming years, there will be far fewer people who will get to chase their dreams of making it to the Show.

Of course, less affiliated Minor League baseball should mean an uptick in players wanting to play Independent League baseball which may lead to the rise of new leagues and teams to fill the void left behind following any contraction of affiliated baseball.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was a star pitcher on the school baseball team. The team made it to the state playoffs my junior year. The following year, it was not uncommon to see various pro scouts in the stands.

My friend was a southpaw pitcher, which was then, and continues to be a hot commodity sought after by many MLB clubs. My friend ended up signing with the New York Yankees in the second round of the MLB June Amateur Draft right out of high school and as Tom Petty would say, “the future was wide open.”

Setbacks on the field, as well as off the field, led him to bounce around the Minor Leagues like a fan trying to reach first base in a dizzy bat race. My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball. Over 10 seasons he had a career .513 winning percentage, and a career 4.32 earned run average (ERA). After 10 years of chasing the dream my friend finally called it a career without so much as a cup of coffee in the show.

My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball proving that not every dream of playing MLB ball comes true.
Photo R. Anderson

There are thousands of players just like my friend who seek the bright lights of big-league ballparks only to find their dreams cut short. While the answer varies depending on who you ask, most people can agree that only about 10 to 20 percent of the people drafted by MLB teams will ever make it to the Majors.

So, the thinking goes that by reducing the number of teams and the rounds in the draft MLB is forcing people who wouldn’t have made it to the MLB anyway to start their post baseball playing days earlier.

Many will bounce along as long as possible chasing the dream until the realities of life and family commitments lead them to a steadier form of work. These players are the real Crash Davis types, in honor of the character Kevin Costner played in Bull Durham.

I lost track of my friend a few years before the end of his career but would still follow his career whenever I saw a blurb on one of the Minor League sites. I hope he is doing well for himself and that he landed on his feet after he hung up his glove for the last time.

Whenever baseball does resume it will be different on so many fronts. COVID-19 exposed a crack in the professional sports diversion that people have counted on to get them through so many other trying times in the past. Now that people know that sports are not the recession proof, tragedy proof, and pandemic proof light in a time of darkness that they thought they were, people will need to decide whether they will still put their trust in sports to distract and comfort them, or if they will find other ways to deal with whatever life throws at them.

In many ways, we are all Minor League players trying to hang on to the dream for one more season, while knowing in the back of our heads that at some point we will need to put our cleats away and face life head on.

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

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

MLB’s Push to Play Ball in 2020 is Heading into Extra Innings

Negotiations continue to heat up between representatives of baseball owners, and representatives of baseball players, in an attempt to salvage some sort of 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season.

One of the latest rumors floating around, as reported by several outlets, includes a proposal from the owners to play a 50-game season, followed by expanded playoffs and a World Series. The players representatives have proposed playing as many as 114-games starting around the July Fourth Weekend.

As I have stated many times, I miss baseball and would love to see it played again. I have also said many times, in many ways, that I do not miss baseball to the point that I would want to see a fan-free condensed season just so someone can pat themselves on the back and say, “hooray, we had a 2020 MLB season.” Fifty games a season does not make. Even at 114 games, the risk trade of having a season, versus not having a season does not come out in favor of playing ball.

As part of the proposals being floated around it was reported that players will have the option to sit the season out if they do not feel safe playing ball in the era of the global COVID-19 pandemic. While players would not be paid if they sit the season out, they would get credited with a year of baseball service.

Baseball in the olden days, like during Spring Training of this year, involved crammed dugouts. The baseball in the new time of COVID-19 will look very different.
Photo R. Anderson

Any final agreement on playing the 2020 baseball season must allow players to opt out, and I applaud that position being addressed through the negotiations.

While I am firmly entrenched in my stance that baseball just needs to sit this year out and try again next year, I know that there are people who will disagree. This other side of the coin from my position feels that having baseball, any baseball, is just what is needed during these times of pandemic and civil unrest.

Although I do not agree with that position, I respect that position, just as I would hope that people on the other side would respect mine. Society works best when people can have a healthy productive debate on an issue, agree to disagree, and part with respect for the other person’s opinion.

But from where I am sitting, I have yet to hear a strong enough case that baseball, any amount of baseball, this year would be in the best interest of all involved. Let me state my case.

I get that there are huge financial stakes for both the owners and the players if baseball is not played this year. I also understand that the players in the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) ranks are being hardest hit by a lack of games, as in many cases they are about to lose their paychecks.

Sean Doolittle and other members of the Defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals, committed to give MiLB players within the Nationals organization financial assistance during the time without baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

In regards to the players of MiLB, I am encouraged by the stories of MLB players, like, David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Sean Doolittle and other members of the Washington Nationals, committing to give MiLB players financial assistance.

In making the announcement on his Twitter page, Doolittle noted that, “All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times.”

I am also encouraged by the stories I see of MiLB Ballparks, like the home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and Sugar Land Skeeters, finding creative ways to generate revenue inside their facilities during this absence of games.

I do not pretend to believe that financial hardships do not exist in baseball, but in many cases the financial strain that they are feeling is a drop in the bucket compared to the issues being faced by small businesses and employees across the country who have lost their livelihoods and jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A word to baseball as you air your grievances about trying to make sure you get your money by having some sort of season, know the room. You may find that many of the fans that you count on to support you will get a bitter taste in their mouths by reading stories of you arguing over millions of dollars, when many of them are wondering which bill they won’t pay this month in order that they can eat.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos listed their ballpark on Airbnb as a way to generate revenue during the stoppage of baseball brought about by COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

If baseball, any baseball, is played this year, of course the players should be paid.

Furthermore, they should be paid well for risking their lives during a pandemic just to bring people at home some distraction from the world events around them. They just need to ensure that the discussions regarding how much they should get paid do not come off as ignoring the suffering around them, and the bigger picture.

This is a tricky point, as well as a sticky point. With no fans in the stands, creating a strictly made for television game so that networks and teams can make revenue to pay players for playing that game can come across as rather tone deaf.

But wait, the owners will say, “in some cities we are allowed to have up to 25 percent capacity in our Ballparks, so there will be fans in the stands for the games.”

And how exactly is the 25 percent decided upon?

I am sure most teams have season ticket holders for more than 25 percent of the seats in a Ballpark. Let us also not forget all of those corporate funded luxury suites that surround many Ballparks. So, do season ticket holders and suite users get first crack at seeing a game in person, versus someone who just buys a couple of tickets a season? Don’t even get me started on how one would be able to socially distance at a concession stand.

Do teams set up a Hunger Games style lottery where everyone puts their names in a hat and hopes that the Ballpark fortunes are forever in their favor?

I welcome being shown if there is a way to equitably pick 25 percent of a fan base to sit in the stands for a game. Until then, from my seat here, I conclude that more problems are created than solved by starting to let fans into the Ballparks at reduced capacity.

As part of any return to action, players would be socially distanced within the dugout and would be prevented from any physical contact with each other such as high fives, hugs, etc.
Photo R. Anderson

Another issue to consider is the health of both players and fans attending these games. As part of any return to action, players would be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.

Additionally, as I noted in a previous column, players would be socially distanced within the dugout and would be prevented from any physical contact with each other such as high fives, hugs, etc.

Even if I am willing to concede that players could be socially distanced in the dugout, and on the field, there is still the issue of dirty balls. Most balls I have seen put into play are touched by a lot of people.

A ball that is part of a routine double play has the potential to be touched by up to four players, and that is before the ball goes around the horn in the infield. And telling a pitcher that they can’t lick their fingers before a pitch is probably not going to go over too well.

How to socially distance during mound visits is one of many areas that will need to be figured out before baseball returns during the COVID-19 era.
Photo R. Anderson

Again, make no mistake, I miss baseball. But I have yet to see a proposal where the benefit of a return of baseball outweighs the risks. And I am sorry, but the champion of a shortened, round robin, regionally based, season does not deserve to be called World Series Champion in the same light as a team that battled for a full season in the past.

The record books of baseball would be much better served by a line item saying, “the 2020 season was cancelled due to a global pandemic brought about by COVID-19, but returned even stronger in 2021,” then trying to pass off a team that played a third of the games in a normal season as the champion.

If players and teams want to stage a 50-game exhibition season as a measure of goodwill that is one thing. But, don’t try to play 50 games in empty ballparks and try to call it a season. You are so so much better than that baseball.

So, in conclusion, stay home baseball. Take care of yourself, and I will hopefully see you next spring. I care too much about you to have you risk your health, and the health of those who play you just so somebody can unfurl a “mission accomplished 2020 World Series Champion” banner inside your Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some books about baseball to catch up on.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 1

For the past five years, I have traveled an average of one to two weeks a month. During this time, I saw a lot of hotel rooms, drove a lot of rental cars, and most impressively I mastered the art of snagging a coveted aisle seat close to the front of a completely full Southwest Airlines flight. On those rare occasions when the seat next to me on the flight was empty, I felt like I had won the lottery as I crisscrossed North America during the carefree days before COVID-19.

Over a five-year span I logged a lot of miles in blue planes just like this one.
Photo R. Anderson

Many of those trips involved visits to Ballparks and other sporting venues. I saw Major League games at Dodgers Stadium, Angels Stadium, Tropicana Field and Coors Field. I caught Minor League games in Colorado Springs and Port Charlotte, among other places.

For good measure, I even visited four hockey arenas. While Coolio sang of living in a “Gangsta’s Paradise,” I was truly spending most my time living in a sports fan paradise.

The era of the non-retractable roof Ballpark as fallen out of fashion in recent years. Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is truly the last of its kind. Based on historically low attendance some might argue that the Trop was the first Ballpark to engage in social distancing.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that carefree ability to cram into full arenas, full ballparks, and even full blue Boeing 737s, has been put on hold for the foreseeable future thanks to the COVID-19 virus.

Large gatherings of people at sporting events would be the perfect storm for community spread of the virus. So out of an abundance of caution, fans will not be allowed to congregate for a while once the sports world reopens.

I can totally respect that since, a) I really don’t feel like getting sick just so I can see a game in person, and b) drinking Dr Pepper with a straw through a hole in my officially licensed MLB face covering does not sound like fun.

Constellation Field in Sugar Land, TX has a scoreboard that reminds people what state they are in. This can be helpful for fans who become disoriented from the heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigaplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

My Bucket list of Ballparks I wanted to visit was already pretty extensive. However, as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see when the world reopens.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

For the first installment of our series, I have chosen to look at the five Ballparks I want to see again. While I will always enjoy finding new Ballparks to visit, I also enjoy returning to some old favorites. The five Ballparks on this list are ones that I would visit for every game if I had the chance.

Constellation Field, Sugar Land, TX

A mascot with a water gun is the perfect combo for baseball in triple degree heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Located just a smidge too far away from the gigaplex for me to be a season ticket holder, Constellation Field plays home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

With reasonable prices on tickets, food, and souvenirs, a game inside Constellation Field won’t break most piggy banks. The action on the field is exciting, and the mid-inning promotions staff provides the usual Minor League Baseball standards to keep the fans entertained.

I do take issue with the team getting rid of the carousel in Center Field a few years ago, but aside from that, this little ballpark is pretty much perfect for catching a game. The Ballpark is in Texas so it does get hot during day games in the summer, but there are thankfully ways to stay cool including a splash pad and air conditioned areas.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

Though it is criticized by many, I find Tropicana Field to be a pleasant place to catch a game while also feeding some wildlife.
Photo R. Anderson

Tropicana Field gets a lot of flak from a lot of people. They complain about the location of the facility as well as the fact that it is one of the last of the multi use large domes that once dotted the sports landscape from coast to coast.

While domes in Houston, Seattle, and Minnesota have given way to single use baseball fields, courtesy of the Ballpark renaissance kicked off by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Tropicana Field stands as a reminder of what a certain era of Ballpark design looked like. While the Trop has haters, I actually like the Ballpark. It was one of the first facilities to allow people to bring in their own food and also offers an unlimited refill policy on soft drinks.

Paying tribute to the days when the Tampa Bay Rays were known as the Devil Rays, there is even a Ray touch and feeding tank in center field. Plus, it is hard to beat catching a game in air-conditioned comfort and staying dry during those hot and wet Florida summers that last from March to November.

Coors Field, Denver, CO

During my lone trip to Coors Field I hit a triple with a Pepsi, a hot dog, and a bobblehead.
Photo R. Anderson

Next up is Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. I have only had the pleasure of attending one game at this Ballpark. It was a day game during a Colorado heat wave and the vendors were selling equal amounts of beverages and sunscreen.

From what I could see through my sun screen irritated eyes, the Ballpark has a lot to offer. The game I attended included a bobblehead giveaway, as well as a race between people dressed up as the presidents on Mount Rushmore. Not too shabby.

Coors Field made the list, based on my desire to catch a night game at the Ballpark and to have time to explore more of the amenities without feeling like I was every bit of a mile closer to the surface of the sun.

Dr Pepper Ballpark, Frisco, TX

Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX is a great venue to catch a game, just try to avoid day games in August.
Photo R. Anderson

Dr Pepper Ballpark is home of the Frisco Rough Riders, who are the Double A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It has been several years since I made the drive up to the Ballpark located in a suburb of Dallas, but it is a drive well rough making.

The Ballpark features bullpens that are surrounded by seats so fans can really get a close look at the pitchers warming up. The facility also includes a lazy river and a pool, which is perfect for the sweltering heat that the Dallas Metroplex is famous for.

One major plus of Dr Pepper Ballpark, is the availability to have a cold and refreshing Dr Pepper. I am sure there are people who do not mind Pibb Xtra, but for me it has to be Dr Pepper. With the headquarters for Dr Pepper being located next door in Plano, TX, I feel pretty confident that the Ballpark will keep serving Dr Pepper for years to come.

Blue Wahoos Stadium, Pensacola, FL

Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium is a true gem among Ballparks and has a waterfront view that can often include spotting the Blue Angels returning from an Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

Blue Wahoos Stadium is home to the Blue Wahoos, a Class Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The Ballpark is one of my favorites for many reasons. The location right on the bay is hard to beat.

The concessions are top notch. The Ballpark itself is beautiful and has been named best ballpark in the country by numerous outlets, including being a three-time recipient of the Southern League Ballpark of the Year award. The Ballpark is the smallest facility in the Southern League and this creates an intimate fan experience.

I try to visit Pensacola as often as I can. When the world reopens, and it is safe to move about the country once again, Pensacola will be one of the first trips that I make. Southern League Baseball has always been my favorite league since catching Orlando Sun Rays games with my mom at Tinker Field in Orlando. The Blue Wahoos allow me to keep that tradition alive once every other year or so.

These five Ballparks are definitely places I would go to again and again. There are other Ballparks that I could have included as well on my list of places I love catching a game at. Be sure to return Friday when I will reveal the five venues that I want to visit for the first time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about Ballparks has me craving a hot dog and some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

NASCAR Provides First Look at What the Return of Sports Could Look Like as Other Sports Sit Impatiently in Neutral

Brad Keselowski started on the pole on May 17, 2020 when NASCAR returned to live racing after a nearly two month hiatus.
photo R. Anderson

When the history books are written to describe the era of COVID-19, it is likely that yesterday, May 17, 2020, will be remembered as the day that sports returned to America.

Okay, to be fair, all sports did not return yesterday. Declaring the “all clear, come and play ball y’all” is likely months away from occurring. Factor in a return to wide open, stadium rockin’ sports as they were prior to March 2020, and some experts say that could be a year or more away.

Still, yesterday will be remembered as the day that NASCAR told their drivers to start their engines, and the fans to stay home and watch. It is easy to see how NASCAR was the first sport to draw up a game plan for a return to competition.

Kyle Busch is set to run seven races in 11 days in all three NASCAR series as part of the sport’s return to live competition.
photo R. Anderson

Drivers sit alone in their 3,000 plus pound octane 93 fueled chariots. So, even during rubbing and bump draftin’, social distancing can be maintained.

Throw in helmets, and protective gear for the pit crew members, and you have yourself a ready-made example of responsible sport in the COVID-19 era. At least that is how the plan is supposed to work.

While social distancing works in NASCAR, other sports leagues will find it harder to show that the athletes are separated by the recommended Center for Diseases Control (CDC) guidelines of six feet of separation. The next sport on the clock to try to return a fan-free viewing experience to the world is Major League Baseball.

Baseball has already returned in South Korea where the season opened in empty ballparks, followed by ballparks allowing up to 1,000 fans to attend from a safe social distance.

It is hard to imagine a scenario where Major League Baseball says the first 1,000 people to the ballpark are allowed inside. It is safer to say, that the only people sitting in the stands for the foreseeable future whenever baseball does return will be team employees.

While no exact timeline has been established for the return of baseball, when it does return it is likely that the pregame lineup exchange at home plate will be eliminated.
photo R. Anderson

I have said this before, and it bears repeating, I miss baseball. However, I do not miss baseball to the point that I want to see players, umpires, and other team personnel put at undue risk of exposure to a virus that currently has no cure just so I can have a few hours of live sports during my work from home time.

Blake Snell, the 2018 Cy Young Award-Winning pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays, made waves when he commented on his Twitch channel last week that playing an abbreviated baseball season with a pay cut was not worth the risk to his health for future seasons. Based on estimates of the proposals being negotiated between MLB management and the player’s union, Snell would earn around $2.3 million instead of $7 million in salary for playing what would amount to at best an 82-game season.

To be fair, athletes risk injury every time they take the field. However, one can certainly argue that risking your pitching arm and needing to miss a season because you are recovering from Tommy John surgery is entirely different than risking your health because of a virus.

Snell’s candid assessment of needing to look at his life after this season, versus playing this year and risking his health, drew the usual round of negative comments with people calling him “entitled,” and that he should just “shut up and play.”

After Blake Snell drew criticism for voicing concerns about returning to play baseball, fellow All-Star Bryce Harper noted that Snell made public feelings that many players are pondering in private in regards to the risk of playing baseball too soon to their long-term health.
photo R. Anderson

A pair of All-Stars, in Bryce Harper and Nolan Arenado, came to Snell’s defense by noting that Snell went public with what many players are thinking in private related to needing to look long and hard at the risks associated with returning to play baseball this year.

As part of a return to the ballpark plan reported by ESPN, players and all other people involved in the games would be tested for the COVID-19 virus several times a week to allow any potential outbreak to be snuffed out at the source. Under the plan to mitigate the spread of the virus , according to the ESPN report, players, would also be banned by fist bumping, high fiving, and spitting.

However, it is unknown whether players will still be allowed to bang on trash cans in the dugout. Too soon Astros fans?

MLB is targeting a return to play in early July. It is highly likely that the return will feature fireworks and other festive celebrations as the “Boys of Summer” play the National Pastime once more. Any return to play scenario needs to allow players to choose whether they want to return, or if they are willing to forfeit their salary in order to focus on their health for future seasons.

MLB is targeting a return to play in early July. It is highly likely that the return will feature fireworks and other festive celebrations as the “Boys of Summer” play ball once more.
photo R. Anderson

Assuming that MLB does the right thing and allows players to choose to sit out the season, that creates the question of why not just wait until next year to play at all.

Can an 82-game season with some of the top players on each team choosing to not play really be considered legitimate?

Of course, the answer, as it usually does, centers on money. Even without fans in the stands team owners and broadcast networks can make money on games.

Another footnote in the year of COVID-19 history book should not only include the day live major sports returned with NASCAR, but should also include the day that the MLB potentially chose finances over safety. Of course, that financial risk versus personal risk calculus is being performed across the globe as multiple industries look to reopen in the middle of a pandemic.

Millionaire baseball players aren’t the only ones who will need to perform a risk trade when it comes to returning to work. Employers at all levels need to be sensitive to the concerns raised by workers, and where possible accommodations need to be made to protect both their health and their jobs.

I miss going to see Swatson and the rest of the Sugar Land Skeeters. I look forward to a time when I am once again watching them from inside the ballpark.
photo R. Anderson

I am eternally grateful to the men and women working at the grocery store who bring my order out to my car and allow me the opportunity to stay safely socially distanced. Too often, some elements of society look down on workers in retail, transportation, healthcare and hospitality.

Society owes a huge debt to all of the people on the front lines. When the pandemic is over, the people who kept us safe, fed, and tended to health-wise, should be the first ones allowed inside the sporting venues as a show of thanks from a grateful nation.

Until then, sports leagues need to temper their enthusiasm for returning to play. We all miss sports. However, it would just take the death of one player to show that the risk was not worth it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my work from home fury coworkers are meowing for some kibble.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson