A gray, rainy day at an empty Durham Bulls Athletic Park pretty much symbolizes the 2020 baseball season. The pandemic has put a halt to America’s pastime and left many wondering about its future.
“You know baseball is strong but we can’t let something like this set us back,” said Durham Bulls General Manager Mike Birling.
Even before the pandemic hit Major League Baseball was looking at a restructuring plan that would have contracted 40 minor league franchises.
The possibility of having no fans in the stands or no minor league season at all this summer would help justify such a move for those pushing for it.
“The worry is a place like Burlington or a Kinston,” explained Birling. “I know Kinston is owned by a major league team but it’s still that small town community that’s what makes minor league baseball and honestly that’s what helps make baseball.”
The best case scenario is that baseball returns this season. If it does, the game will no doubt have a drastically different look. Fanless stadiums not the only oddity.
“You know who would have thought you’d have players having to sit six feet apart with masks on in the dugout and not being able to spit,” laughed Birling. “You are barely being able to chew gum. That’s not something we’ve ever been able to fathom.”
Big crowds and fan pleasing, between innings promotions have been a staple with Durham. And Wool-E Bull, his antics will take on a new look as well.
“To not allow Wool-E Bull to mingle with the crowd and do everything that he does from the field, it’s just going to be different,” said Birling.
Welcome to the new norm, for now.
“You know just think of hitting a home run and not being able to slap five with a player,” Birling said. “There’s so many things that you just don’t think of.”
Like “America’s Pastime” without fans. Something minor league baseball would not be able to survive.
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