It’s opening night for the Grand Junction Rockies.
Except it isn’t.
There should be bunting, purple and white team flags fluttering and a roster of young, nervous baseball players about to make their professional debuts.
Interns should be handing out goodies at the gate, fans lining up for beer and hot dogs and learning the names of the new players.
That isn’t happening, either.
Minor League Baseball is in limbo.
Instead of hustling to finish last-minute details in time to open the gates, the three full-time employees of the GJ Rockies have been all but twiddling their thumbs the past few days.
“I’m managing social media and that’s been good for me, but otherwise we’re not doing much simply because we can’t do much,” Kyle Kercheval, the director of broadcasting and sales, said Wednesday. “We’d love to be finishing our promotional schedule, stuff like that. We have stuff that we have prepared to ship and be sent down here, but we haven’t brought that in. We’re still waiting to see what the season ticket situation is going to look like.
“We have all the season tickets here, but we’re not giving them out yet. We just need more information. Unfortunately, until we get some sort of timeline or some plan of attack there’s not much we can do.”
The GJ Rockies sent emails to season ticket holders Thursday with an announcement that the season was on hold, with a note from club President Mick Ritter that in part said, “at this time we still do not have any new information on if we will be having a season, but in all honesty our chances do not look good. With that being said, once we do have an official word we will be reaching out to you to discuss the options we will have going into 2021 and further.”
All orders are on hold, from souvenirs to concession items, until the Minor League Baseball season is officially called off for 2020 or an alternate schedule is announced.
If the season is canceled, the club will issue refunds to their season ticket holders. Any sponsorships and ad contracts would have to be canceled and refunded.
“It’s very strange,” Kercheval said. “You want to do something and have a plan but there just isn’t. It’s just so out of our hands right now.”
Several minor league teams are making the best of the situation by having events at their ballparks. The Rocky Mountain Vibes in Colorado Springs sold out two Drive-in Movie Nights, allowing fans to park in the outfield and watch Back to the Future and A League of Their Own. The Vibes also launched a ballpark food takeout campaign a few nights a week.
Instead of a game tonight, the Ogden Raptors are opening Lindquist Field for fans to go onto the field and play catch.
Kercheval said the Rockies would love to plan something for fans at the ballpark, but since Suplizio Field is owned by the city of Grand Junction, until sports venues are open under the city’s reopening plan, that’s not possible.
Compounding the Rockies’ situation is the issue of Major League Baseball’s contraction plan, with roughly 40 teams, including the entire Pioneer League, possibly eliminated after this season. The agreement between MLB and Minor League Baseball expires in September, and talks have been contentious. The two entities have had limited negotiations since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Few expect minor league baseball at any level to be played this season — MLB has to finalize a plan to get the big-league teams on the field first.
Colorado General Manager Jeff Bridich said last week after the first round of the amateur draft that nothing has been finalized for the developmental clubs, but mentioned talk of expanding the Arizona Fall League this year so more players get on the field.
Should the Pioneer League be shuttered in the new contract between MLB and MiLB and there’s no 2020 season, the short history of the GJ Rockies could end without a proper sendoff.
Fans have stopped by the front office and called asking for updates. Unfortunately, Kercheval said, there isn’t much to update.
“We’ve gotten so much support and it means the world to us,” he said. “There was never a doubt in my mind the support that this team gets from the community, but the past few weeks … it stinks that it has to come down to something like this to really hit, wow, the impact we have is great, but it’s meant so much more over these last few months.
“You definitely want to give something back to them. It hurts not to have answers for people.”