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The Western Canadian Baseball League season has been cancelled.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will return in Edmonton next year.
On what is usually opening week of the schedule, the league announced Thursday the entirety of 2020 has been called a rainout due to COVID-19.
“This difficult decision was based on our No. 1 concern, the health and safety needs of all involved,” read the press release.
The news wasn’t any easier for the Edmonton Prospects to take on a picturesque day when the temperature reached 18 C, with the smell of grass clippings in the air and the sun in full shine, despite the proverbial dark cloud that’s been hanging over Re/Max Field.
The cancellation of the 2020 season officially spells the end to their time inside the Rossdale ballpark, as their lease, which runs out at the end of this year, has not been renewed.
Instead, the City of Edmonton is entering into a 10-year agreement with a new group, Baseball Edmonton Inc., headed by Dr. Randy Gregg, formerly of the Edmonton Oilers.
And to borrow a term from an entirely different sport, it’s all starting to feel a bit like piling on at this point for Prospects managing partner Patrick Cassidy.
“It certainly does, and I think in Edmonton here, we’ve even got a couple more offensive linemen jumping on top of us,” he said following Thursday’s cancellation announcement. “It is incredibly sad, it really is. There is no other way to describe it other than sad and disappointing and depressing, almost.”
That’s not to say the decision came completely out of left field, considering how the other summer sports, including the Tokyo Olympics, have all been postponed or cancelled.
“No, it’s not a surprise at all,” said Cassidy, one of the league governors who voted unanimously to abandon ship on 2020 after examining all possibilities.
The vote was initially slated for early June, but was pushed ahead to May 27 with all the restrictions on gatherings, the border closure and the province pointing to June 21 as the earliest a team like the Prospects could get back up and running.
“Which was already past, sort of, our last cutoff in order to get a season in,” Cassidy said of the wooden-bat, college summer league, which typically runs from the end of May through the beginning of August. “Like anything else, we have to mobilize. It’s not something you can just turn on a dime.”
He pointed out anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of the league’s players are American.
“We have to bring some up from the U.S., which you’ve got this border and quarantine issue,” said Cassidy. “The list of complications and problems is just insurmountable.”
The 2020 season would have seen the Prospects in Re/Max Field on a one-year extension to what was initially a four-year term, while Cassidy announced last week the club will be building a new facility in Spruce Grove in time for the 2022 season.
And that already had next season up in the air, before this one was even over.
“We’re going to give ourselves until at least the end of July to find a solution for next year,” Cassidy said. “We have options. I’m not sure what the other guys have for options, but we have options.”
The league made it clear last week the Prospects hold territorial rights to the Edmonton area, meaning Gregg & Co. might have a home base, but no WCBL team to put in it, as it stands.
And that could leave baseball in Edmonton fighting for its life once again, even after the pandemic passes.
“It always seems to be in Edmonton,” Cassidy said. “The Trappers left town, and then there was the Cracker-Cats situation, and then the Capitals took over and ran into league problems. So it’s like the baseball community has been on this gigantic roller-coaster ride here for the last number of years and we thought we were actually making some great strides in terms of leveling that out and getting relevant again.”
Over their eight years in Re/Max Field, the Prospects increased their annual attendance by 10 times the 60,000 mark last season, while keeping the facility busy for around 110 days in recent summers.
“It’s really a shame that we are where we are,” Cassidy said. “And I really feel a sense of obligation to our fan base, who have really been the heroes as far as baseball is concerned over the last number of years because they keep coming out.”
But when will Edmonton baseball fans get to go down to the ol’ ball game again?
Cassidy answered that question with one of his own.
“Where at?” he asked. “You’ll hear the crack of the bat in a very exciting project in Spruce Grove in 2022. Regardless of what happens in Edmonton, that was something that was going to go forward anyway.
“As far as the crack of the bat in Edmonton, I guess you need to ask Mayor Don Iveson about that, and Randy Gregg. I don’t know what kind of bat it is, whether it’s wood or aluminum, I don’t know.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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