The Atlantic League, the minor-league baseball league that includes the Long Island Ducks, will begin its 2021 season on May 28, the league announced Tuesday.
The league canceled its 2020 season over concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ducks, who won the championship in 2019 and are managed by former Met Wally Backman, attempted to schedule a 70-game season with other minor league teams from surrounding areas, but were ultimately thwarted when they were unable to gain exemption from the state’s decision not to allow fans into professional sports venues.
A news release said that the league is still working with individual teams on further details surrounding the season, including COVID-19 related safety protocols, but were eager to announce a starting date.
"We are mindful of government safety concerns, especially ballpark attendance allowances," Atlantic League president Rick White said in the release. "But even as we address those challenges, we feel it critical to announce our intention to play a full season this year. Atlantic League baseball is an essential part of our communities, and we hope this announcement provides inspiration to all our fans."
The scheduled date for the 2021 start is approximately one month later than it’s been in previous Atlantic League seasons.
The Atlantic League will look different in 2021. The Somerset Patriots, longtime stalwarts and the Ducks' chief rivals, are now a Yankees minor-league affiliate. The Sugar Land Skeeters, whom the Ducks beat in the 2019 Atlantic League Championship Series, are now a minor-league affiliate of the Astros. That leaves five returning teams – the Ducks, York Revolution, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, Lancaster Barnstormers, and High Point Rockers – as well as the Gastonia Honey Hunters, a new team based in Gastonia, North Carolina.
The Atlantic League, which was formally independent, is now a ‘partner league’ of Major League Baseball. The agreement, which was announced in September, sets up regular meetings between the leagues to discuss joint marketing and promotional opportunities, including the ‘leagues’ shared goal of providing baseball to communities throughout the United States,’ a news release said when the agreement was announced.
The designation also extends the current agreement between the leagues, which permits MLB to test experimental playing rules and equipment during Atlantic League games through the 2023 season. During the 2019 season, the Atlantic League tested the Automated Ball-Strike System - which uses radar tracking technology to assist plate umpires in calling balls and strikes - among other experimental rules, in the second half.