College-level, wood-bat summer baseball league has announced two potential late-start options
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The 2020 summer baseball season for the MINK League and Chillicothe Mudcats, originally targeted for a late-May commencement, instead will start with a figurative “homage” to the late, legendary “Satchel” Paige’s now-outlawed “hesitation pitch,” the league’s top official has confirmed to the C-T.
Ky Turner, president of the MINK League, says league officials and team representatives have agreed to at least delay the beginning of their seasons. That word comes even as initial procedures for relaxing some of the restrictions recommended by many health agencies and officials and enacted by many civil authorities across the world in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic begin to be contemplated and sorted through.
Two alternative schedules for league play – one for a mid-June beginning and the other for a first-of-July start – will be developed, he disclosed.
Exactly how many league games per team might be slated figures to vary with each starting-date option, as probably would the season’s end date. The league prexy did not rule out the league season reaching into August for the first time – normally it ends in the vicinity of July 20, but, if it did, suggested it likely would be only a relatively-few days.
“We have all options on the table when it comes to scheduling and playing games,” Turner stated. “I would be inclined to believe we'll have a larger amount of doubleheaders to ensure all players receive opportunities to play, but that is something we will discuss as part of the scheduling process.”
“We'll continue to monitor local, state, and national guidelines, which is why we allowed ourselves additional time to start the season,” he continued. “Every day is very fluid and we'll continue to monitor those decisions when it comes to a ‘go/no go’ decision.”
Whatever decisions are made will attempt to address concerns and desires of all those involved, Turner emphasized.
“I think we all agree this is a unique time and we are all doing the best we can to provide the best experience possible for all stakeholders,” the league executive declared. “Safety will be the No. 1 priority.
“Things might look different in 2020, but our goal is to be able to provide a safe family-entertainment option for guests and a safe playing experience for our players. We also know our host families are so integral to the success of our league and we will take every step possible to ensure their safety and will make decisions for the league with that in mind.”
At one point late last fall, the MINK League expected to have 10 members in 2020, equaling its most ever, but long-time member Ozark suddenly dropped out last November. Then, at mid-week last week, the owner of the Clinton (Mo.) Creatures, one of two would-be new teams, announced the negative financial impact of the current health crisis on potential business/corporate support for the club was prompting him to re-target the team’s start of play for 2021.
In a statement the team issued publicly, Creatures owner Titus Bond, who initially expected to operate the team out of Chanute, Kan., commented on the “difficult” 2020 termination decision, "We are proud to be a part of the Clinton community. From day one this community has embraced us. We are proud of what we have been able to accomplish over such a short period.
“Our team operates off of support from area business sponsorships and season-ticket packages. With the economic uncertainty that the coronavirus has presented, we cannot, in good conscience, ask local companies to sponsor our team.
“The Creatures will continue to work with Clinton city officials, stay involved in the community over the next year. and are excited about working on some new projects to prepare for the 2021 season.”
“We understand and respect (Bond’s) decision to sit out the 2020 season,” remarked Turner, who also is general manager of the St. Joseph Mustangs team.
“It was not an ideal situation … to move to Clinton in March and, just days later, a nationwide epidemic hits. There are many challenges with starting a new team and this allows Titus time to put together his team and staff without the additional obstacles we (as a league) are facing this summer.”
Bond and the league president indicated the Clinton team will enter the league next year.
Barring any further developments over the next four to six weeks, the league would continue at eight teams, as it has been for the past decade. Chillicothe’s team, in its 18th year of operation by Grand River Entertainment, is the second-longest continuous current member behind the Clarinda (Iowa) A’s.
“Every team is concerned about player, host family, guest, and staff safety, as well as the current business climate,” Turner reflected. “We all have a goal of being able to play baseball this summer, if we can. We are all waiting to see what transpires in the near future as we each assess our own individual team playing this summer.”
If the league continues with a 2-divisions setup with an unbalanced schedule, the Mudcats will remain in the North Division with St. Joseph, Clarinda, and newcomer the Des Moines (Iowa) Peak Prospects. Depending on the length of the eventual schedule, given this year’s unusual circumstances, a return to a single-division setup with a balanced schedule – either with or without a “postseason” championship series or playoffs – could be an option.
One of many factors related to how many games and doubleheaders might be scheduled and what “off days” might be built in to the slate is the likelihood of a much-larger pool of available players, due to the lack of a college season this spring, Turner confirmed.
“There has been an incredible response from college players and coaches alike in playing in the MINK League (this summer),” he shared. “I would use the word ‘unprecedented’ (interest level) to my knowledge.
“Whether it's other leagues that have suspended play, the lack of a spring season, or wanting to play closer to home, there has been an incredible amount of interest in joining MINK League rosters for this upcoming season.”
Given the larger “workforce” pool, some consideration might be given to allowing teams to have a much-larger roster of signed players, so that the heavier playing-time load of a compact, heavy schedule of games could be spread among more position players and pitchers. That could give more collegians a chance to get in action during the summer without an inordinate level of risk of injury through overuse.
In such a case, the league could take steps to “level the playing field” among teams with significantly-varied numbers of rostered players by requiring to submit to the game umpires an “active” roster of a preset number (same limit for each club) of available players for any given game or day. That could help teams have an ample supply of fresh pitchers available day to day while others who have thrown in the previous days could be assured of resting.