Although Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff believes there will be Atlantic League baseball in 2020, he acknowledged that the number of fans permitted at Bethpage Ballpark would have to be reduced below capacity, at least at first.
By exactly how much, though?
“The governmental and health guidelines will dictate that,” Pfaff said of the team’s 6,002-seat ballpark in Central Islip. “But clearly there’s going to be a reduced capacity if and when we’re permitted to start up.”
The Ducks, who are the defending Atlantic League champions, were scheduled to open their 126-game title defense in Central Islip on May 1. Nearly three weeks later, Pfaff is just as bullish as he was then on the prospect of baseball at some point this year.
“We remain optimistic,” he said. “We’re working towards an opening and are doing everything we can to make sure that we are preparing as thoroughly as possible for making sure that, if we are given the green light to open up, we can do so in the safest possible way for the players, coaches, staff and fans.”
That green light would have to come from Suffolk County officials. Pfaff said the Ducks have had continuing discussions with the county and are hopeful that they will be able to open the ballpark ''at some point this summer.''
Both Pfaff and Atlantic League president Rick White declined to throw out a potential start date. White added that specific dates for a first pitch have been internally discussed, but publicly revealing them would put undue pressure on a still-fluid reopening plan, he said.
“What we don’t want to do is create a false promise,” White said. “If we’re going to announce a date, we’re going to go on that date.”
Still, the goal remains to play as many games as possible without going "too deeply into the fall,'' White said. “We’re doing everything we can to play."
If and when the first pitch is thrown, White said the Atlantic League is taking steps to make sure everyone is as safe as possible while watching the action. In addition to reducing fan capacity to provide for adequate social distancing, potential plans include making sure that the baseballs themselves are as clean as possible and that balls do not go into the stands for any reason other than foul balls or defensive mistakes.
White said he has seen plans that call for a ball to be taken out of play and subsequently disinfected if it is handled by anyone other than the pitcher and catcher.
“It becomes very extensive,” White said. “We’ve gone so far as to mandate that when balls are rubbed up with rubbing mud that umpires are using gloves.”
A plan also exists in which each team would have its own set of baseballs to be used when it is in the field, potentially ''cutting down on the possibility of some kind of fresh transmission,'' White said.
Making sure that each baseball is clean is part of the league’s effort to "leave no stone unturned'’ when it comes to trying to reopen safely, White said.
“I think it’s a combination of optimism and hope, but that’s far better than the alternative,” he said. “Each day brings us more reasons to believe there’s optimism we can play.”