The Long Island Ducks remain optimistic that there will be a baseball season at some point in 2020. As for when that will happen, they are less sure.
“We continue to be officially postponed with a 100% commitment to play as many games as we can this season,” Atlantic League president Rick White said.
The Ducks are the independent minor league's reigning champions and were scheduled to begin their 126-game title defense Friday night at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.
“I’m an optimist and I believe we will play baseball at some point this season,” Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff said. “I’m hopeful.”
The Atlantic League includes teams in six other locations: Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania; Waldorf, Maryland; High Point, North Carolina; Bridgewater Township, New Jersey, and Sugar Land, Texas. The league also includes a team that plays its entire schedule on the road, the Road Warriors.
Pfaff and White said that ensuring safety of the fans and players comes before any thought of a first pitch. White said the league will need state and local governments in each league location to relax guidelines prohibiting the congregation of large groups before they can consider playing.
“We want to play,” White said. “I wish I could tell you when we’re going to play. But until and unless we’re told we’re allowed to play, we’re not going to be able to do so. But, we continue to look for every opportunity to do just that.”
Suffolk County owns Bethpage Ballpark, Pfaff said. The Ducks will look to state and county government officials for guidance as to when and how to open the gates. Those guidelines have not been released yet, Pfaff said.
Minor-league baseball, specifically at the independent level, needs fans to be able to come to the ballpark to consider reopening, Pfaff said. With no major television deal — the Ducks broadcast their games on their own YouTube channel — revenue comes nearly exclusively from fans making the trip to Central Islip.
“One hundred percent of our revenue is derived from ticket sales, sponsorship, merchandise sales, and food and beverage,” Pfaff said. “All of that revolves around opening the gates. So it’s incredibly important that we get an opportunity to do so, as long as it’s safe. Safety is the key.”
White and Pfaff confirmed that teams have looked at contingency plans that include selling a limited number of tickets to each game, preventing capacity crowds and allowing fans to maintain social distancing. Bethpage Ballpark seats 6,002 fans, the team said.
Although that plan has been discussed, White said some of the details to "social distancing ticketing’" are complicated.
“You would have to separate patrons by three seats in order to meet that [six foot] guideline and you would have to separate them by a row front or back,” White said. “In Bethpage Ballpark and most of our ballparks, you would effectively be losing two-thirds of your fixed seating capacity.”
White said that selling fewer seats is among multiple scenarios that Atlantic League teams have analyzed, including a dire model that results in a cancellation of the season.
Pfaff wouldn't even entertain the notion of a lost season, much less what it would mean for the Ducks' bottom line.
“I’m not into hypotheticals,” he said. “What we’re doing right now is planning for a season and, again, taking it on a day-by-day basis. As long as we continue making the best decisions that we can with the best data that we have, we’ll be in a position to succeed, and that’s all we can do right now.”