Coronavirus may have robbed us of the final season of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced its decision not to provide Minor League Baseball teams with players this summer as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. (Major League Baseball is still planning to play an abbreviated season this summer, but I remain less than certain that will come to pass too.)
“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”
“While we are incredibly disappointed that we are unable to play the 2020 season, we can now focus on planning an exciting season of Scrappers baseball at Eastwood Field in 2021” said Jordan Taylor, Vice President of HWS Baseball and Scrappers General Manager.
The Scrappers’ season wasn’t profoundly delayed – as a short-season Class A team, they were supposed to start play June 18 – but the team was on the chopping block, one of 40 teams that were slated for contraction based on contract negotiations between MLB and its minor league affiliates. In fact, the proposal would lay waste to the New York-Penn League, contracting nine teams, including the Scrappers.
Despite the optimism implied in Taylor’s quote, professional baseball may have played its final innings in Niles.
Team officials said plans were being made as if the season was going to be like any other, with promotions and events scheduled in and around Eastwood Field. But the virus led to the postponement of spring training and the delay to the start of the season – and will likely lead to changes throughout the world, including in sports.
Stadiums may suddenly find themselves all at lower capacity as social distancing remains a priority. Training may change as well. But the largest change in baseball will be financial. A main reason the season has been delayed as long as it has is for players and owners to reach an agreement on revenue. As you might imagine, playing a shortened season in front of no crowds will lead to a hit in the pocketbook for most teams – many of which have already shown a lack of desire to spend money in free agency.
And that may spell the ultimate doom for the Scrappers. Fewer teams means fewer players and less travel – which was the reason given for the potential consolidation. Which is a shame, because the Scrappers deserved better than the ignominious fate that appears at hand.
The Scrappers debuted in 1999, part of a quest for the better part of the decade for a minor league team in the Mahoning Valley, which had a substantial history of being a minor league outpost. Their opening day starter was CC Sabathia, drafted just a year earlier. The Scrappers won a division title that year, the first of six in the team’s history, and also won the New York-Penn League in 2004.
Eastwood (ne Cafaro) Field hosted the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in 2012, and remains home for a variety of other games, including high school contests and home games for Youngstown State University baseball. But it will remain still through the summer – and likely for many summers to come.