Suns for the Fourth?: Futures League aiming to start up on July 1
While summer wood-bat college leagues around them have cancelled their 2020 summer seasons, the Futures League was not one of those leagues.
It might be too early to say that the patience has paid off, but the league — of which the Pittsfield Suns are a member — is looking forward to possibly getting on a baseball diamond later this summer."We're going to try for on, or around July 1st," Futures League commissioner Joe Paolucci said.
The Suns, and the rest of the seven-team Futures League was scheduled to begin its season in less than a week. The Suns had been set to start on May 28, hosting the Brockton Rox.
Under the plan that Paolucci and the seven ownership groups have been working with, the season would begin on July 1, and go for 42 games. There would be one playoff round, featuring the top two teams at the end of the schedule. The 42-game season could end in mid-to-late August.
"Obviously, we're dealing with three different states, since we have the team in Nashua [N.H.] and [New Britain] Connecticut," Paolucci said in a phone interview with The Eagle. "In Massachusetts, we kind of fall under phase two and phase three. Phase two is youth sports and Phase three is large outdoor events. That kind of puts us at late June when Phase three would kind of be in effect."
The ownership groups are, of course, looking at a best-case scenario for starting the season. Should coronavirus numbers take a turn for the worse, the Futures League's owners could stop the planning.
While the New England Collegiate Baseball League — which has the North Adams SteepleCats as a member — has canceled, along with the Cape Cod League, and the New York-based New York Collegiate Baseball League and Perfect Game Summer Baseball League, several other leagues had either put those decisions on hold or had pushed their seasons back.
The Coastal Plain League and the MINK League, based in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, pushed their schedules back to July 1. The Florida Collegiate Baseball League moved the start of its season back to the week of July 29.
"Our teams have been working really hard with their local governments and decision-makers to make sure they're going to be able to cover whatever guidelines are going to come up," Paolucci said. "I think that we're going to be able to do it, assuming that things don't go in the wrong direction.
"I think we'll be able to play in July."
Paolucci said he did not know if playing later this summer would include fans, and if fans were included, how many could attend games at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, New Britain Stadium or Holman Stadium in Nashua, to name a few.
If they play without spectators, fans will be able to watch Futures League games via Blueframe Technology. Blueframe also signed up the NECBL to livestream games. The company is based in Lexington, Ky.
Paolucci said he and Worcester general manager Dave Peterson have been working on plans to play out the schedule. Paolucci said the current plan is to drop into the schedule as of July 1. The Suns would have been idle on July 1, but would be home on July 2 against the Westfield Starfires.
The commissioner did say that there might have to be some adjusting of the schedule to make sure that every team gets 42 games and has a fair amount of games on different nights.
"We don't worry about if Worcester has to play Nashua this many times," he said. "We try to do that. What's more important is that the teams all have equal numbers of home games on different days of the week. We don't want Nashua to have seven Monday games and one Saturday game."
The Futures League had an original maximum roster limit of 31 players. The league, like the NECBL and some other leagues, had increased roster limits because of colleges canceling their spring seasons. Paolucci said that if they play, there won't be roster limits.
"As long as they're eligible to play NCAA baseball, they're eligible to play in our league," he said. "In terms of roster limits, I lifted all that so people would have the flexibility to get whatever players they need."
The Futures League is moving forward without thinking of using host families, a league tradition. Paolucci said that without host families, the teams are focused on trying to adjust their rosters with talent that can commute to Wahconah Park or Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field in Worcester.
The Goldklang Group, owners of the Suns and several minor league teams, has put forward a plan for the summer. According to the plan, published by Ballpark Digest, there would be cashless transactions, socially distancing fans in stadiums, concourses would be one-way and marked, employees would have temperatures taken daily and would have to wear gloves and masks.
"At the end of the day, we have to get the buy-in from the players and from their parents," Paolucci said. "If the players don't feel safe in the environment we're going to present to them, whether it's individual players or if it's a group, that's what we're going to have to wait and see on."
As to why the league did not do what the NECBL or the Cape League did, Paolucci said that decision wasn't a difficult one.
"I think we, collectively, made the decision that there was no advantage to just canceling. It didn't make any sense to say let's cancel now and focus on 2021," the commissioner said. "I think we all just thought that a wait-and-see approach was the best way to go. Obviously if a month from now, if things are different and we have to cancel, then we can cancel. You can cancel at any time, but once you cancel, it's really difficult to go back.
"Let's say we canceled two weeks ago and then, on July 1, the world is different. We didn't want to be kicking ourselves if we could have been playing baseball."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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