NY-Penn League president hopeful the Muckdogs will take the field at Dwyer again
It would be "very, very sad" way for baseball to end in Batavia and 41 other minor league cities if the baseball season were canceled and a new agreement between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball eliminated those small franchises, said Ben Hayes, president of the New York Penn League.
Professional baseball in Batavia was under threat of extinction before a pandemic hit, and news reports have indicated Minor League Baseball has conceded to the MLB's request to consolidate leagues across the nation. Still, Hayes said today that negotiations continue and nothing has been finalized.
Even better news, he isn't giving up on playing NYPL baseball in 2020. The season is indefinitely postponed, but Hayes said he and league owners and officials want players in parks and fans in seats this season if at all possible, including in Batavia.
The NYPL operates in eight states, and there are only two stadiums so far that are in regions where COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted enough to allow fans and ballplayers into ballparks.
"There's nobody at the Major League level or the Minor League level that has said this season is over and done," Hayes said. "Nothing has been canceled at either the full-season or short-season level."
If a decision was made to play ball, the MLB has suggested it would take players two or three weeks to get ready for the rigors of professional baseball.
Hayes is currently traveling around the league, including a planned stop in Batavia, and league owners have been holding regular conference calls so they can be ready for the day when there can be baseball again.
Every team is developing plans to ensure social distancing is maintained; there is plenty of personal protective equipment for personnel; there are plans for thorough and regular cleaning and sanitizing in place, and to ensure that hotels and busses are safe and clean.
"Everybody has a plan right now," Hayes said. "We're following the guidelines to make sure our players are safe but also our fans and stadium staff or safe. Right now, it's just a waiting game."
If the season is washed out, Hayes said he has already communicated with the Minor League's negotiating committee to request that any new agreement that could potentially eliminate teams would be delayed at least a year so that fans in those cities losing their franchises could get a farewell season before shutting down.
"That's my hope," Hayes said. "We voiced that to our representatives on the negotiating committee," Hayes said. "There are 42 clubs out there that if that plan were to go through, they would have never gotten a chance to have a last season, and that would be very, very sad."
As for the current operations of the Muckdogs, if you call the office, the phone is disconnected. It's not possible to get in touch with General Manager Brendan Kelly.
Hayes said shutting down operations was purely a cost-saving measure and not an indication of the status of the ballclub.
"We're just trying to save money," Hayes said. "We're trying not to accrue costs simply because of the financial situation of the Muckdogs."
Meanwhile, except for the city mowing the infield and outfield grass, the playing surface is not being maintained. Weeds are sprouting up all over the diamond that Cooper Thomas has beautifully manicured over the past couple of seasons.
None of that is a worry, Hayes said.
"We can get that back in shape in two or three weeks once we get a grounds crew in there," Hayes said.
The weeds maybe a little bigger but the situation now isn't much different than it would be in a typical year when crews start preparing the field for high school players in the spring.
"It's amazing what an edger and a lawnmower and a little bit of fertilizer and weed killer can do," Hayes said. "It makes a huge difference and you can really turn a field around quickly."
Whether Thomas will return in 2020 to lead that effort -- assuming the NYPL gets to play baseball -- is up in the air, Hayes said. He would love to have Thomson back and Thomas wants to come back, he said, but President Trump's current moratorium on worker immigration because of COVID-19 could prevent Thomas from making the trip from Australia to Batavia.
Top Photo: Weeds growing in the Dwyer Stadium infield.
Yesterday, the Dwyer Stadium scoreboard was lit up with "Reds 0 / Pirates 0 / PPD."