College-level wood-bat team's reps notified MINK League officials last weekend the Mudcats would not field a 2020 team. Bounds will continue as head coach in ’21, Mudcats officials disclose
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — The 19th summer of Chillicothe Mudcats baseball has been struck out – at least for 2020 – by COVID-19.
After local and MINK League meetings late last week and during the weekend, officials of the local college-level, wood-bat baseball team unsurprisingly announced Monday (May 4) they had informed league officials the Mudcats would not operate in summer 2020.
Myriad complications arising from the current novel coronavirus which has killed well over 60,000 Americans and infected more than 1 million U.S. residents in a bit more than three months overpowered hopes of finding a way for the Mudcats, who began play in 2002, to safely compete and bring their customary couple of months of sports entertainment to local fans.
“The majority of the Mudcats board felt that it is in the best interest of the community, the host families, the players, and the staff to cancel the season,” W.L. “Butch” Shaffer III, team board president, commented for the C-T early Monday afternoon.
“It’s a decision the board never imagined that we would have to contemplate,” Doug Doughty, team general manager since August 2012, reflected in a video news release the organization posted on its Facebook page and shared with local media.
“Many of the host families are uncomfortable having young men from all over the county coming into their homes this summer,” Shaffer told the C-T. “It is also felt that it is not fair to the community to bring players into the community after the great care that everyone has done to keep the city safe. It is also difficult to ask sponsors for money considering the fact that the past two months have not been good for their business.”
Stated Doughty, “We want to thank the host families for considering staying with us and, of course, we thank the sponsors and all the Mudcats fans and all the community for supporting us in the past.”
At the same time as making the public disclosure of the cancellation of the planned 2020 season, which was due to start May 27, Mudcats board president Shaffer disclosed that the board has voted to retain ex-Mudcats pitcher Caleb Bounds as head coach for the 2021 season. Bounds has been the team’s head coach each of the past two seasons.
Shaffer also announced Monday that Chillicothean Caitlyn Cothern has accepted the organization’s offer to continue as operations manager in charge of off-field, non-baseball-related activities in 2021. This summer was to have been her first in that post after being a team intern and staffer in recent seasons.
“We’re looking forward to 2021,” the team president proclaimed.
Ironically, this summer’s team roster was due to be one of the most familiar to local fans in recent memory, if not ever.
Three local talents – Chillicothe High School 2020 graduates-to-be Jaden Winder and Westley Brandsgaard, both signed to play collegiately in 2020-21, and 2017 CHS alumnus Tristen Sewell, who was serving in the military last summer after pitching for the Fish in 2018 – were to be on the roster Bounds had assembled. That would have equaled the most locals on the team since 2006 when Josh Norris, Matt Radel, and Drew Lollar were part of the Mudcats’ first MINK League champions and National Baseball Congress World Series qualifiers.
Additionally, perhaps as many as 10 players from the 26-16 2019 Mudcats squad planned to come back for a second Fishing trip. If nine or more had shown up, it would have been the largest number ever. The 2003 Mudcats had eight players who also were part of the inaugural 2002 club.
“When you consider that professional (sports) organizations are struggling with keeping their players safe and they’re coming up with ideas like quarantining players for two weeks before they report and then isolating the players after that,” Doughty pointed out, “those are a couple of things that we’re just not capable of doing.”
The Mudcats, sponsored by Grand River Entertainment, were not the only MINK League member to bow to the seemingly-inevitable at the end of last week.
One of the league’s newer members, the Jefferson City Renegades, also advised league officials they would not field a 2020 team. Jefferson City general manager Mike DeMilia echoed the sentiments Shaffer shared regarding the potential for risk to the indispensable host families, as well as the players.
“One team even asked, 'What is our benefit for playing?'" DeMilia, in an article in Monday’s Jefferson City News-Tribune, said of the league’s online meeting. "Nobody really had a great answer for that. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot more risks than rewards.”
"We just thought to be safe, to be smart and to be proactive, the best decision is to just cancel (the season) now.”
The individual decisions of the Chillicothe and Jeff City teams are fully respected and supported by the league and does not jeopardize their good standing within the league, MINK League Commissioner Ron Rodriguez and league President Ky Turner affirmed for the C-T Tuesday.
“They are a valued member of the league and we look forward to welcoming them back in 2021," Rodriguez noted.
The Chillicothe and Jefferson City actions followed by about two weeks the announcement by league officials that the management of would-be league newcomer Clinton (Mo.) had decided it would not continue with its late-running efforts to field a team this summer.
The owner of the Clinton Creatures team, Titus Bond, initially had intended to locate the club in Chanute, Kan., but field availability issues there prompted a late-winter switch to Clinton. However, the spread of COVID-19 through the U.S. began at about the same time, complicating the attempts of Bond’s organization to generate the local business and host-family support needed to put the team on the diamond.
League officials and team representatives had agreed a week or two ago to postpone the planned start of the season from late May to the middle of June. However, last weekend’s “virtual” league confab made clear the passage of additional time had not brought any improvement to the host family or sponsorship issues, nor others like transportation arrangements, potential legal liability exposure, and more.
“After listening to the MINK League (general managers and team presidents),” Shaffer related, “no one in the league had a plan as to how to protect everyone involved. All of them could only talk about the problems.”
Without any concrete evidence that the situation soon would turn around, Shaffer and Doughty, previously having received guidance from the full team board, mutually agreed the time was right to formally terminate the Mudcats’ 2020 season operations.
“It’s not a decision that we’re happy with,” the team president related, “but … the community’s worked extremely hard in trying to keep the community safe and we don’t want to be an organization that says, ‘Hey, we don’t care what you’ve done. We’re just going to go ahead and play baseball and everything’s good,’ when it’s not good yet.
“We’re not ready for it. … It’s not safe. It’s not a good idea.”
“For us to potentially disrupt all that hard work would not be a great idea, in the board’s opinion,” echoed Doughty.
Once the board reached its decision, the GM had Bounds begin advising the prospective 2020 players of it.
“It was felt that the best thing to do is to release the players,” so they could pursue other options for their summers, Shaffer commented to the C-T.
The MINK League, of which the Mudcats – members since their beginning – have the second-longest current stretch of membership behind the Clarinda (Iowa) A’s, has played seasons with as few as six member teams previously, but generally has had eight or more.
“A revised league schedule will be released on June 1, dependent on the current climate and health standards,” Turner stated to the C-T. “The MINK League has closely followed federal, state, and local authorities’ restrictions, strategies, and policies in relation to COVID-19 and will continue to do so.”
If the league is able to move forward with an abbreviated season, it “will formulate guidelines for all teams to establish proper procedures for the safety of players, staff and fans,” the league president reported.
If the six league teams which have not yet “thrown in the towel” – Clarinda, St. Joseph, Sedalia, Nevada, Joplin, and the new Peak Prospects team from the Des Moines, Iowa, area – find a way to attempt to play a season, the smaller number of clubs would make it simpler to get in a representative number of league games in the shorter time frame.
A balanced slate of a half-dozen games against each of the other five – 30 games per team – could be accomplished without too much trouble through some aggressive scheduling (multiple doubleheaders) within the month of July, barring a large number of rainouts.
While a smaller number of teams and balanced schedule would seem to lessen a need for it, if the league opted to, it theoretically still could stage a best-of-3 league championship series between the top two finishers in the 30-games season and presumably be finished by Aug. 5 or before.
For the latest information and updates as they happen, the league officials invited fans to visit the league’s website www.minkleaguebaseball.com or its social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter (@MINKLeague).