It was not exactly a secret that there would not be Minor League Baseball in 2020. But when the news became official on Tuesday afternoon, it was not any easier to take.
The minors are hurting and it’s a brutal time for owners, staff, players and fans on the farm. With all those teams, all those locations and all those players, there was going to be no way to safely play in the minors this summer. Some players will find their way onto a club’s 60-man player pool; for some, maybe their chance to play in the majors will escalate this year. For others, perhaps teams later will get clearance to have some of their players take part in another camp in Florida or Arizona. Maybe there is indeed potential for a team full of Orioles prospects playing those from other organizations in an Arizona or Florida fall league.
But with the virus raging again in some states, that is no sure thing. Nothing is at this point.
O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias discussed recently how pitchers will miss out on reps and innings and miss out on opportunities like learning to pitch out of jams. Hitters - especially the teenagers, he said - will miss needed at-bats.
But those I feel saddest for are the many staffers I’ve met over many years covering Orioles minor league ball. Let’s be honest, most on the farm don’t get rich working in Minor League Baseball. The opposite may be true. But they love what they do and that shows through. So, yeah, it’s a tough life. But hey the hours are long and the pay is not great. But as I’ve traveled around the O’s farm for more years now than I’d like to count, I’ve met so many and have been greeted with smiles and people who are living their dreams. It can be completely rejuvenating to spend a day at a minor league ballpark.
But this year, teams have had to lay off and furlough workers. Some will never get those jobs back. Some teams may go under. Some places that once were alive with the sounds of summer will be silenced this year and some are facing a very uncertain and not promising future.
Major League Baseball’s decision to eliminate some teams was short-sighted in my opinion. Yes, there are places in the minors where facilities need upgrading and travel is almost unbearable for players and staff in some leagues. The charm of the minors is apparent, but sometimes lost during the middle of a 12-hour bus ride.
But it’s Americana to me. Fireworks shows, concerts, crazy promotions, and some of the best people and characters in the game. I’ve had long days at minor league ballparks, but few bad days.
I can name people at each affiliate that any O’s fan would be proud to know. People that juggle multiple tasks at once with a smile and sometimes put in a 10-hour day - before game time.
There are no national TV contracts to help here. The minors need fans in the stands purchasing concessions and merchandise to be able to pay their bills. They won’t have that this summer. Furthermore, some sponsors and clients may be asking for their money back. Or may want their money put toward sponsorship next year, so clubs will have to offer make-goods in 2021 rather than bring in new income. Some announcers I know get paid on a per game basis. But there are no games to call.
Some of the people I’ve talked to on the farm this year - and I’m talking about the staff with area teams, not the players - have stayed amazingly upbeat. But they know how devastating this is.
If MLB cuts teams as expected for 2021, the Orioles seem likely to lose one full-season affiliate with short-season Single-A Aberdeen likely moving up to become a full-season club. None of the four clubs from Triple-A Norfolk to Double-A Bowie to the Single-A clubs at Frederick and Delmarva have done anything wrong. But one might not be with the Orioles next year. Frederick was on the list earlier, but I’ve been told numerous times the list is fluid and not yet final.
To me, Frederick is everything the minors should be about. If the Orioles have to move on without the Keys, I hope some smart MLB organization will jump at the chance to play ball there. That community loves and supports minor league ball in ways many do not.
Man, trying not to bring the mood down too badly here, but a season without minor league ball hurts so many. It’s impossible for me to not think of them today and every day really.
I have a job I love, covering my hometown team. I’ll find ways to enjoy the majors and the coming 60-game season. I’ll root for everyone to stay healthy and for the game to provide fans the entertainment and fun they get from the sport.
But no minor league games for 2020 leaves a void that is hard and darn near impossible to replace.
This video on Bowie’s twitter account is with Baysox general manager Brian Shallcross. To me, he speaks for a lot of people I know on the O’s farm. Staying upbeat at a very tough time. This had to be tough for him to do.