While the rest of the sporting world hangs in limbo because of restrictions in place to combat the spread of COVID-19, things are moving along at a more conventional pace at the CHS Field offices of the St. Paul Saints.
With the official start of the season still more than a month away, the 2019 American Association champions are moving forward with just a few changes to their typical preseason regimen. For now, they’re taking a wait-and-see approach, cautiously optimistic while being fully aware of an uncertain horizon.
“It’s definitely not business as usual, but we’re still very busy. It just feels very different,” said Derek Sharrer, the team’s executive vice president and general manager. “I like to think of it as sitting tight while pushing forward.”
The Saints and other American Association organizations are still proceeding with May 19 as Opening Day. The only official schedule change has been delaying the start of team training camps from May 7 to May 14.
“Instead of a 12-day lead-in to the season, it will be five days,” Sharrer said. “But in independent minor league baseball, we’ve always been able to mobilize pretty quickly.”
The team has put ticket marketing on hold. Typically, this is prime time for selling ticket packages, spurred by a heavy local advertising blitz. But with potential ticket buyers unlikely to buy in such an uncertain environment, Sharrer said, the team put a hold on much of its advertising. Already purchased advertising time has been donated to local organizations helping combat the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We didn’t expect too many people to be purchasing tickets for games they’re not sure are going to happen,” Sharrer said. “We felt it is better to donate the time for PSAs for organizations that are helping out. We identified a few who could use it, like Second Harvest Heartland [a food bank], Catholic Charities and the Dorothy Day Center.”
But virus restrictions have rippled through the organization. For example, George Tsamis, who will be entering his 17th season as manager of the team, would typically be in St. Paul by now, assembling a roster. But Tsamis has been stuck in his home state of Connecticut, unable to travel because of restrictions in place.
And the suspension of Major League Baseball spring training has hindered Tsamis’ ability to land players. The Saints have 12 players under contract for the 2020 season instead of the 28 the league allows in the spring training period. That number is cut to 22 for the regular season.
Tsamis’ method of filling his roster has long been to wait for MLB teams to release players, then scour the lists of the newly available for talent. With MLB teams yet to make large-scale cutdowns, the lists are sparse.
“George has always been famous for waiting until spring training is over, then swooping in and picking up five, seven, 10 players,” said Sean Aronson, the team’s longtime director of broadcasting and media relations. “He can’t do that right now. There’s even a scenario where we could start our season before the majors do.”
The Saints and the rest of the American Association have already discussed contingency plans if the season were to start late. American Association teams typically play a 100-game schedule that ends in early September.
“We’ve had discussions about possibly starting on June 1, June 15 and as late as July 1,” Sharrer said. “If it’s June 1 or June 15, we’d probably pick up right where the schedule is. If it’s July 1, we’ll probably have to look at extending the season into September. We’d want to make sure everyone got at least 40 home games.”
Regardless of how an abbreviated schedule would look, Sharrer said the team is committed to making sure CHS Field is available for its other commitments, including the first two rounds of the high school baseball state tournament and the popular Cat Videos night.
As of now, the team has no changes planned until the league meetings in early April, and no plans to shutter operations or furlough employees.
“At our core, we’re a small business. We have a front office staff of 18 people,” Sharrer said. “… We’re in pretty good position to weather the storm.”