Baseball people sometimes get anxious when the weather turns too cold to touch bases, hit cutoff men and spit sunflower shell casings on dugout floors.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball,” the Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby famously said. “I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Fran Riordan, on the other hand, makes copies.
The Aviators’ manager and his brother, Chris, own an office supply store in their hometown of Buffalo, New York. It keeps them busy when baseball people in upstate New York stare out frosty windows and yearn for doubleheaders.
When we recently spoke, the skipper was minding the shop. He was hopeful he wouldn’t be spending the summer making copies after last year’s minor league season was canceled by a pandemic that has wreaked more havoc on the national pastime than nickel beers in Cleveland.
It was announced Thursday that Triple-A teams would play a 142-game season in 2021. That’s the idea, anyway. The virus may have another idea.
“Hopefully the minor league season can go on as normal and player development can go on as continued,” Riordan said as snow fell in Buffalo and scarfs were added to social distance masks.
“The minor league players that missed out on the 2020 season didn’t get the reps they normally would,” the Pacific Coast League’s 2019 manager of the year said about bonus babies spending a few weeks at the parent A’s alternate training site before being turned loose.
“If you have two years of that gap in game situations and reps on the field, then you’re going to start to see that same gap in player development. It’s not good, especially for young players who are in the prime of their development career.”
Players such as former UNLV stalwart Bryson Stott.
The Desert Oasis High product was selected in the first round, 14th overall, by the Phillies in 2019. After an impressive debut season as a pro, Stott appeared to be on the fast track to the big leagues. Another season of facing minor league pitching might have been enough.
But instead of dealing with filthy sliders, Stott spent most of last summer being bored and restless.
“I have a net and a tee and my brother could flip (balls) to me in the backyard,” the infield prospect said about what he did to stay in baseball shape and keep from climbing walls.
“Go in the street and play catch.”
Tap the keg
COVID was a curveball that not even the most sage of baseball soothsayers could have seen coming. It was downright chin music to the minor leagues. Without bobblehead nights and nachos served in plastic batting helmets to sustain them, many franchises in the lower leagues capitulated or were contracted during Major League Baseball’s takeover of the minors.
Some 40 teams were eliminated while others, such as the PCL’s Fresno Grizzlies, were dropped from Triple-A to Single-A. As of now, there is no PCL — founded in 1903, the Coast League is now being called Triple-A West, at least until MLB decides what to call the scaled back leagues. Or can sell naming rights to highest bidders.
The Aviators are fortunate to have revenue reserves from 2019’s record-setting season at the turnstiles on which to fall back. But the momentum the franchise had been waiting so long to build with construction of a modern ballpark was postponed by COVID and cannot be rescheduled as part of a doubleheader.
Aviators president Don Logan said it’s imperative that coaches, players and fans play ball at the recommended social distance in 2021 because the minor leagues can ill afford another significant shutdown.
“We need people buying hot dogs, Cracker Jack and beer — don’t forget the beer,” Logan said.
He was wearing a mask but at least his eyes finally were smiling.
Why were baseball’s minor leagues reorganized?
Money, of course. Or lack of it.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the 30 major league teams amassed an unprecedented $8.3 billion of debt from their various lenders and will post $2.8 billion to $3 billion in operational losses.
“We are going to be at historic high levels of debt,” Manfred said of trimming expenses. “And it’s going to be difficult for the industry to weather another year where we don’t have fans in the ballpark and have other limitations on how much we can’t play and how we can play.”