The Pittsfield Suns were conspicuously absent from Monday's announcement of a 2020 Futures League baseball schedule. The Suns announced over the weekend that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the team would take a pause in 2020.
This happened just prior to the league officially announcing that the other six teams would begin playing a 39-game schedule on July 2.
This only makes the Suns' ownership more excited about returning to play in 2021.
"There are very few silver linings with COVID-19. One of them is that we feel, from a staffing standpoint and most certainly from a player and sponsor standpoint, that we will all be chomping at the bit," Suns owner Jeff Goldklang said. "It's hard enough going nine months without games. Going 21 months without games is going to be darn near impossible. I would anticipate the excitement and the energy that will be in play at Wahconah Park either at the end of May or the beginning of June for our opening day next year in 2021, is going to be palpable and tremendous.
"We all look forward to when that next shining light might be, and certainly in Pittsfield, it's Opening Day 2021."
The league announced that the other six teams will play a 39-game schedule from July 2 until Aug. 19. Opening-night games will be played in Nashua, N.H., and New Britain, Conn. New Britain is where the newest Futures League team, the New Britain Bees, play. The Bees had been a member of the independent professional Atlantic League, and the Bees replace the Bristol Blues in the Futures League lineup. Bristol had moved to the NECBL, whose season had been canceled earlier in the spring.
Former Taconic High School and current University of Hartford infielder Drew DeMartino of Pittsfield will play for the Westfield Starfires.
"Our team owners and operators put a tremendous amount of work into positioning our ballparks to open as safely as possible in order to provide fans with our unique brand of baseball and entertainment," Futures League commissioner Joe Paolucci said in a release. "We're excited to get going."
Nashua and New Britain will play 21 home games each, because New Hampshire and Connecticut are in different phases of reopening than Massachusetts is.
The Suns, meanwhile, aren't the only team to announce it would not play this summer. Only five of the 15 Northwoods League teams are playing a summer season. The Northwoods League is housed in several upper Midwest states, and only five teams from Minnesota and Iowa will play in a pod from July 1 until Aug. 20.
That the schedule for the Futures League was released Monday without the Suns was a disappointment to the Goldklang Group that owns the Suns, as well as affiliated minor league teams in Fishkill, N.Y., and Charleston, S.C., and an independent-league team in St. Paul, Minn. As of today, only the independent team is set to play this summer.
"It was a tremendously difficult and heart-wrenching decision," Goldklang said in an interview with The Eagle. "It was heart-wrenching for our players. It was heart-wrenching for our staff, and it was certainly heart-wrenching for our fans. The goal, from Day One, was to figure out a way to safely play at Wahconah Park this summer. We tried every possible scenario, every possible option and way to created an atmosphere, both for the players and the staff and the fans, where we could feel comfortable welcoming them in."
Goldklang said that some of the major announcements that plagued Major League Baseball and Division I college football did not, in fact, have an impact on the Group's decision not to play. The Philadelphia Phillies announced that several players working out at their spring training site in Clearwater, Fla., had tested positive for the coronavirus. That led to the Clearwater site, and every other spring training site, being shut down.
"There were just too many variables. Variables that obviously played into the layout of our tremendous and historic, but old ballpark, from a spacing issue, from a footprint issue. It was just not feasible to create the distancing, both on a player and on the fan staff side," he said, "to where we would have comfort that we would not be putting anybody in jeopardy in a safety standpoint from Day One through the end of our season.
"Logistically, it became clear over the last week or so, especially considering the phases that we were currently in and anticipate being in, that it was just not going to be possible to play a Pittsfield Suns season in Pittsfield."
Goldklang also admitted that they thought about playing 2020 somewhere besides Wahconah Park.
"We had some potential options for other locations," he said. "But we're the Pittsfield Suns. We're the Pittsfield Suns and we're a Berkshire team.
"We didn't feel it appropriate to move the team for [18-20] games in 2020."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.