I’m continuing a check-in around Birdland today by talking with the general managers of the four full-season minor league clubs. In this entry, I spoke with Norfolk Tides GM Joe Gregory. Each interview will have a Zoom interview for you to watch, with some material not covered here in the text.
Today, I check in with Brian Shallcross, who has a long history with the Double-A Bowie Baysox, having worked with the club since 2000 and serving as Bowie’s GM since 2002. It’s a first-rate operation at Bowie and it’s always a great place to watch a game.
The minor league schedules recently released show the Baysox - and all of Single-A and Double-A ball - opening up a 120-game schedule on May 4. The Baysox’s home opener is May 11 versus Reading. Bowie will play in the Southwest Division of the 12-team Double-A Northeast League.
Shallcross said it will be exciting just to have baseball back in his park after a 2020 season where that was not possible.
“Minor League Baseball specifically is 100 percent about community,” Shallcross said. “Sometimes we minimize baseball and maximize what it is to be part of a community. So to have that community come back, even in the limited fashion that we expect - at least in May we’ll be limited - but just to have our community back ... just the idea that we have an opportunity to bring our community together, even in a limited capacity, is special to me.”
Shallcross said that, as of today, the Baysox would not be allowed to have fans in Prince George’s Stadium. Certainly that can and likely will change by the time the season starts in May. He said Major League Baseball sent out guidance for teams about seating pods and how to socially distance fans at early-season games and try and keep everyone safe and healthy.
“We have seen it everywhere around us and we have to be cognizant that Prince George’s County has had higher rates of infection,” he said. “More of our citizens in Prince George’s County have been affected by COVID, so we are cognizant of it. We are not pushing any political or authorities in our community to push at all for us. Right now, we are just hopeful and we see the progress that has been made in communities around us. Anne Arundel County, which is right next to us, loosened up their restrictions to outdoor sporting events. Virginia, this past week, has done the same, with 1,000 people. We are just patient and optimistic.”
The Baysox did a great job hosting the Orioles alternate camp last summer. It allowed Shallcross to get a glimpse of O’s top prospects on the field even if fans and media could not attend. The camp was very well run.
But what about the future of the minors now that MLB is running the show?
“So I think the important thing for Major League Baseball, and what was an impetus for them to take over the minor league system, is to ensure that there is high-quality facilities, high-quality travel, high-quality accommodations, high-quality staffing in the clubhouses and make sure the facilities are up to a very, very high standard. Now that is important from a baseball perspective.
“I think what is important for us to communicate to MLB is that Minor League Baseball has really made its mark in the sports industry by focusing on the fan, by focusing on the community. So I think it’s important that we in minor league baseball make sure to demonstrate that in an ongoing fashion that community matters and fans matter. And it’s not 100 percent about the baseball experience. Because our job is to get a casual fan - someone who might not be a diehard baseball fan - and turn them into an Orioles diehard fan. So from my perspective, I want the folks that don’t really know a lot about baseball. I can teach them about baseball from a fan perspective and we can get the next generation of fans to become a part of Birdland.
“This is a sport we all love. And we want to make sure that we are ambassadors of the sport and can bring in as much interest and fandom to the sport as possible.”
We could see some changes and/or tweaks on the farm after year one under MLB. The unwieldy league names could change, for instance. Maybe the schedules get tweaked or improved.
“There are going to be hiccups, there is no question about that and things that are worked out. And I think the agreement spells some of that out. There will be some committees that will help the transition in an evolving way,” said Shallcross.