Collegiate League Baseball is underway, Minors Look to Keep Fans Engaged

Jul 13, 2020

COVID-19 has changed the world of sports. But there is some baseball being played in Virginia.

After a late start, collegiate players on the Martinsville Mustangs started regular season play early this month.

Martinsville Mustangs and Ferrum College pitcher Will Davis.
Credit Martinsville Mustangs

General Manager Ruthanne Duffy says the league limits how many players can be in the dugout, and masks are provided for those who want them.

“These guys have just been so grateful to get back on the field, and to have some sort of normalcy again,” she said. “We’ve made adjustments, but baseball’s still baseball, and they’re happy to be out there.”

The Mustangs are among seven teams in the Coastal Plain League that are now playing.

“Some people still don’t know we’re playing,” Duffy said. “We’re doing our best to get that out there."

Some members of the league, many of them based in North Carolina, opted to cancel their seasons due to state restrictions on crowd size. Duffy says it took a while to work out health guidelines for the Mustangs games at Hooker Field.

“We’ve got people wiping down the commonly touched items, like the handrails,” she said. “We’ve put Plexiglass in every sales location, so it’s essentially a sneeze guard, so it’s protecting both the seller and the person purchasing anything.”

Meanwhile, many professional ballplayers are sitting out 2020.  The cancellation of the minor league season has forced the front office of some teams to find creative ways of raising revenue. 

Youth baseball players watch fireworks after their game at Calfee Park in Pulaski.
Credit Betsy Haugh, Pulaski Yankees

Betsy Haugh is the general manager of the Appalachian League’s Class-A Rookie League Pulaski Yankees

She says Calfee Park is still bringing in fans for youth baseball games, will host an adult softball league, and has been having movie night, which fans can view from the outfield grass.

“We actually socially distanced the field with hula hoops,” she said. “So we took about 100, 150 hula hoops, and just threw them out, 10 to 15 feet apart.  We told fans as they came in to pick your hula hoop, and set up camp there, and they were able to sit and watch the movie directly on the grass.”

Haugh also hopes to carry some live New York Yankees games on the jumbotron once the major league season starts.

Haugh says she and support staff have held onto their jobs, but says the team never had a roster of 2020 players, or hired interns due to the pandemic. 

She’s also quite focused on what happens in Pulaski beyond 2020.  The entire Appalachian League could be eliminated by next year as part of a contraction plan to cut around 40 minor league clubs.  The league includes three opponents in Virginia – the Danville Braves, Bristol Pirates, and Bluefield Blue Jays.

MLB’s Professional Baseball Agreement with minor league clubs expires in September. Haugh says there’s been little movement of late.

“We are all optimistic that these conversations will be able to kind of resurface, and the parties that we can refocus on these negotiations after the 2020 major league season gets started this month,” she said.  “But right now, we’re just waiting to see how that’s all going to play out. It’s pretty much entirely out of our hands at this point.”

The MLB season is slated to start on Friday, July 24.