2020 Hindsight Season
Posted November 23, 2020
For many of the baseball leagues in Alberta, the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent return to train/return to play guidelines from Baseball Alberta put an end to their seasons. But looking back at the spring/summer of 2020, could the PBL have had a season of some sort? Yes and no.
What Happened In 2020
In March we all came to a stand still. Schools were closed for the remainder of the school year, sports were shut down, businesses closed their doors and people had to stay home because of travel restrictions. The world as we knew it, stopped turning.
On March 13, 2020 Baseball Alberta announced a stoppage to all sanctioned activities until April 6, 2020. On March 20, 2020 there was the first suspension extension, this time Baseball Alberta extended the stoppage of all activities until April 30, 2020.
Doubt was cast on the immediate and long term not only for the sport of baseball but physical activity and recreation as well. The Powerline Baseball League met virtually on March 24, 2020, something that was a first for the league in any capacity, to discuss the options of what was going to happen to their 2020 season. All seven teams (Armena, Axemen, Roadrunners, Edmonton, Rosalind, Tofield and Vegreville) were set to return for the season. But the waiting game was on. Then rumours about where the baseball season was heading were out there and they were quite often pretty gloomy.
Minor baseball associations started to officially cancel their spring seasons around this time which was a move to allow the House League/Community League families to recover their registration fees as the state of a season was rather bleak. Hope was still being held out for some sort of rep baseball season, even if it meant going well into the fall ball season.
On May 8, 2020 Baseball Alberta announced a stop to all sanctioned baseball activities until September 1. The decision was seen as the kill shot for the season for many. A stop to baseball for a total of four months was met with criticism after neighbouring provincial baseball governing bodies were going month to month or unwilling to commit to a future date, seemingly leaving the door open for a quicker than expected return. It was also on this day that PBL President Stephen Hrabec announced the league’s cancellation of the 2020 season.
But then came some hope in the form of Baseball Alberta’s Return To Train guidelines on June 5, 2020. Teams could now hit the field for cohort practices with strict social distancing and sanitizing guidelines in place starting on June 15, 2020. It was a start, even if most teams in the PBL have limited opportunities to practice, there was the chance for teams to come together and toss a ball around, kind of. Initially the plan was to have players use personal baseballs for a practice with the throwing of the ball into nets where they would retrieve their own ball before the next person in the drill.
Then on June 19, 2020 Baseball Alberta announced a Return To Play plan which would start on July 1, 2020 and allow teams to form cohorts to play exhibition games around July 15, 2020.
But there were some concerns with the Return To Play Guidelines. While teams and players in the PBL, and other senior leagues, seemed okay with the idea behind a team using their own baseballs, not sitting around after a game, contact tracing and wiping down any touched surfaces in a dugout, the line was drawn on the rule changes in the game itself. Changes to the batter box, catcher location, no tagging, no leadoffs, all plays as a force out, runners being able to run through each base like first base and commitment lines on the bases were changes many didn’t like or agree with.
President Hrabec looked for interest from the players and teams in the league, there was very little before the Return To Play Guidelines were released. Only a handful of players were willing to form a 3 team league to try and make it work. Once people saw the changes to the game, the numbers hit rock bottom and once again it was decided that the PBL would not pursue a season in 2020.
What Could Have Been…Maybe
In hindsight, perhaps the PBL, if there was interest from it’s players and teams, could have attempted to get a mini-season off the ground. One large obstacle would have been the affiliation with Baseball Alberta for the umpires but many minor baseball associations were able to manage umpiring crews within the cohorts set up with Baseball Alberta as well.
The Foothills Major Baseball Association in Calgary and the North Central Alberta Baseball League around the Edmonton area were both able to get modified seasons on the field in 2020. Both leagues are not affiliated with Baseball Alberta as well. The NCABL operated a six team league with a pair of three team divisions playing cohort games against each other over the course of the season. Then the league took a quarantine break before the first place team in one division played the second place team in the other division for their playoffs. From there, two teams would meet for a championship, which would be won by the Sherwood Park Athletics. There appeared to be no issues with local or provincial governments and there were no reports of any shutdowns or health concerns from the way the league operated with strict guidelines in place. The games would be played with normal baseball rules but with pre/post game restrictions, equipment restrictions and following all local government guidelines for facilities.
Could the PBL have done something similar? Yes probably. If all seven teams were coming back into the PBL for 2020 perhaps the league could have found way to operate a short regular season with two divisions of three teams. The team with the lowest amount of committed players could be asked to have their players find a team in the league to join if they want to keep the three teams in each division and rosters to an acceptable number to meet cohort restrictions. Teams would supply their own baseballs, each team would be allowed a roster of 15 players, umpires would be assigned to the cohort and teams would play perhaps 6-8 games over 3-4 weeks.
Having to play the same team 3-4 times in a short season looks terrible on paper, but it would have been much better to do that then not get to play at all. The Armena Royals, Camrose Roadrunners and Rosalind Athletics could have formed a Camrose County Division with the Edmonton Expos, Tofield Braves and Vegreville Blue Jays making up a Northern Division. Members of the Camrose Axemen could then have been dispersed to the teams in need of players on their roster.
Why It Didn’t Happen
There was every effort made by President Hrabec and the PBL to try and get something on the table. Numerous scenarios were planned since the Spring Meeting with varying lengths of a league schedule were drawn up and agreed upon by the PBL Executive. It came down to interest in playing baseball from mid-July to perhaps early September, combined with too many rule changes, was probably what sunk the 2020 season.
Concern about the season running into harvest were made as some players and some teams would be greatly effected. Concerns about players taking off to camp or vacation in the province or western Canada after being cooped up for four months were also made clear. Players with families wanted to actually have somewhat of a summer when the province began opening up slowly. Lots of players were also unsure of their work situation and hoping as things got back to normal, so would work schedules. For many people, that didn’t happen.
All valid reasons and all reasons that already show up every season in a league like the PBL were playing baseball is a hobby and a passion, not a career. In any given year in a spring/summer baseball season that often ends for most in the early part of July, was going to be tough to find players willing to play into the end of August and early September. It just wasn’t realistic. Teams are working with rosters that for the most part are comprised of players who are somewhat committed to partly committed to a season for a variety of reasons. This requires the few full time core players to constantly have to manage different lineups on a game by game basis. Add in a pandemic to the year and it just makes things that much more challenging for a league that has a lot of the players travel to play their home games as well.
So while the season could have happened, it also faced many obstacles that were preventing it from happening.
The league is expected to return to the field in 2021 as they have a committed President and Executive as well as a whole bunch of players who had to miss a full season of baseball. Hopefully they are excited to return in 2021.