The likelihood of a Major League Baseball season happening in some fashion this year hinges on players and owners getting together soon on a deal. It’s far from certain, but progress at least they’re trying.
What seems closer to a certainty, however, is that any truncated, fan-less season in MLB will leave minor league baseball shut out — while a canceled MLB season would do the same. Either way, more than 100 teams and ballparks in small towns, mid-size cities and large metropolises figure to have a gaping hole on their calendars and revenue sheets in 2020 if there are, as expected, no minor league games this season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
As ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote recently: “Minor leaguers are nervous, and they should be. For the past two months, they have worked to stay in shape and prepare for a season that may never happen. Even if MLB carries a 30-man major league roster with a 20-man taxi squad, that leaves the remaining minor leaguers without games to play.”
Players are wondering how they are going to pay bills. Teams are trying to keep the lights on — and some are getting extremely creative in their attempts to do so.
Chief among them are the Pensacola Blue Waves — the Florida-based Class AA Twins affiliate — have grabbed headlines by listing Wahoos Stadium on the rental site Airbnb for $1,500 a night.
(Photo via Pensacola Wahoos Facebook page).
There’s a bedroom next to the clubhouse that can accommodate up to 10 people, and the rental ad indicates that guests “are welcome to hit from home plate, play catch in the outfield, run the bases, enjoy a picnic in the outfield, or find other creative uses for the field!”
It sounds like the idea has been a hit. An interested renter said on the team’s Facebook page recently that she tried to make a reservation but that every date was blocked off. The official team account replied:
Our available dates are currently booked. We are waiting to hear more on the 2020 season and what the Blue Wahoos schedule will look like. We’re remaining in constant communication with the Southern League and Minor League Baseball about the resumption of the season. When we know more, we’ll open more available AirBnB dates between July-October.
This has played out mostly as a heartwarming and fun little story, which in part it is. But a part of it also feels … uncomfortable? Like stories about fundraisers to cover medical bills or co-workers pooling vacation time to help a co-worker care for a loved one, this one leaves me both applauding the ingenuity and human spirit in the face of a crisis and also feeling an underlying anger that such an undertaking is even necessary.
While the big leagues battle over what’s left to be had of $10-plus billion in annual baseball revenue — much of it from TV/media contracts that simply don’t exist at such a scale at lower levels, which rely heavily on gate receipts — the minor league affiliates that support the talented players along the way are left to hold the equivalent of a bake sale. No, really. They’re selling meal kits in Pensacola, too.
Those coming up with the creative ideas should be lauded for doing what they can to safely generate revenue and give people a sense of community. That’s not the issue.
Pensacola’s ballpark also had a movie night (Frozen II) and fireworks night, which with proper distancing would have been a hit with my household. The team is co-owned by golfer Bubba Watson, and he recently showed up to design and help host a nine hole disc golf tournament in the stadium.
“It’s a stadium for baseball, but there are so many more things going on,” Watson said recently, adding: “We’re going to figure out something else to do here … maybe get some go-karts out here.”
Again, sounds like fun. But …
One thing that has been particularly ugly and unsettling about the pandemic is how it has highlighted the class warfare inherent in our socioeconomic system.
Given that backdrop, there are plenty of possible reactions to an entire minor league organization joining the gig economy — but surprise shouldn’t be one of them.