A league of their own?

Staff file photo by Jessica Nuzzo

Members of the Bluefield Blue Jays watch from the home dugout while Blue Jays fans take in the game sitting above them during an Appalachian League baseball game played at Bowen Field at Peters Park, last summer.  While at least one minor league entrepreneur in Tennessee making alternate plans for utilizing minor league facilities this summer in the event the Appalachian League season is ultimately cancelled, the Bluefield Blue Jays cannot proceed with any similar plans in part due to regional regulatory uncertainties.

BLUEFIELD — Given the uncertainties surrounding whether or not there will even be minor league baseball seasons this year, local baseball organizations are looking for alternatives in the event the 2020 seasons fall through due to the coronavirus pandemic

Some Appalachian League teams have found options that might salvage something. Others don’t appear to have any options.

“We’ve looked at a couple things and we haven’t found anything yet that is viable,” said Bluefield Blue Jays General Manager Rocky Malamisura.

The most recent development in the saga is the creation of the East Tennessee High School Baseball League,  which will be played at three minor league fields including the homes of the Elizabethton Twins and Johnson City Cardinals in the Appalachian League.

The league will consist of 22 to 24 teams who each pay $1,000 to cover jerseys, hats and other expenses during an eight-week season that will be followed by a World Series.

But that’s in Tennessee, which is currently under a less strict coronavirus pandemic regime than either West Virginia or Virginia. A similar league doesn’t seem likely for Bluefield, which doesn’t have the same number of facilities — and isn’t in a position to move forward with such plans even if it did.

“We have one hand tied behind our back and the other is being tugged on, so there’s really not much that we can do about it at this point,” Malamisura said.

Bluefield has been looking at different options that Malamisura declined to disclose, but a final decision cannot be made until the final disposition of the Appalachian League season is determined.

Agreeing to host a league or tournament only to have the 2020 Appy League season suddenly confirmed would create immediate logistical problems.

“Until minor league baseball tells us one way or the other we’ll have a season or not. we can’t even really entertain too much, other than thinking about some plans,” Malamisura said.

The decision on the Appalachian and other minor leagues will likely not come until Major League Baseball has set its plan for the remainder of the 2020 season.

Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that Bowen Field is located just across the state line in Virginia, so the Bluefield organization must adhere to Virginia guidelines regarding coronavirus pandemic protocols.

“The ballpark is in the state of Virginia so we have to live by whatever the CDC guidelines and the state of Virginia dictate to us at that point,” Malamisura said.

All sporting events have been canceled in the Commonwealth, but NASCAR obtained approval to run a race in Martinsville June 10. That race will not be open to fans and has stringent protocols for those competing in it.

Fans are a major part of the the revenue that the Blue Jays brings in. With only 34 home games during a normal rookie league short season, each filled seat is important.

“Our funding comes through the sell of advertising and the concessions and our ticket sales and we have 34 days to make funds to operate and make it through to the next season,” Malamisura said.

Advertisers won’t stay on board if games are played without fans since no one would see the sponsorships with games not even available on television.

A major complaint that Major League Baseball has with the minor league team is the quality of stadiums that they play in. Bluefield would have to shoulder the costs of operating the stadium at the appropriate standard without obtaining revenue from fans.

“Without those fans in the seats it would make it very difficult to burden the cost of running the stadium and keep to minor league’s standards without folks there in attendance ... without that income,” Malamisura said.

That financial burden would be especially difficult to swallow since Bluefield is one of 42 teams on a list of proposed teams to be cut from the minor leagues in 2021 if the new agreement between the MLB and Minor League Baseball favors the big leagues.

— Contact sports@bdtonline.com

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