No beer batter, dizzy waiter or frozen T-shirt contests this summer. No Corky dance parties or running the bases with the Grand Junction Rockies’ mascot after games. No more Friday night fireworks.
No collecting autographs from the next wave of Rockies players starting their professional careers at Suplizio Field.
As expected, Minor League Baseball on Tuesday announced the cancellation of the 2020 season after Major League Baseball informed MiLB it would not be providing players for the 2020 season.
“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Conner said in a release announcing the cancellation of the season. “While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”
For the Grand Junction Rockies, it was an announcement they didn’t want to hear, but at least it’s an answer.
“Since April, or even March, when they pulled all the players out of spring training facilities and said they weren’t sending them to full-season minor league teams, we were hoping it doesn’t go all the way to June,” GJ President Mick Ritter said. “Here it is June 30, almost July 1, and we haven’t played a major league game. Fortunately we’ll be able to watch that, but definitely this is a downer. This is what we do.”
Ritter said the Rockies will contact season ticket holders, sponsors and groups that had reserved dates in the hospitality suite about refunds or other options. The club issued a statement, which in part read: “We are so appreciative of these partnerships and the support we have received during this unfortunate time. We will see you all in 2021.”
For Colorado’s Rookie Advanced affiliate, it could mean the end of the franchise, which moved to town from Casper, Wyoming, in 2012. The eight Pioneer League teams are among the 42 mentioned as being eliminated under a proposed new agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball.
The current agreement expires in September, and the two sides have had bitter negotiations. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Major League Baseball working to get its season back on track, the sides have not met for several weeks, O’Conner said in a digital press conference Tuesday afternoon, adding MiLB negotiators haven’t pressed the issue during that time.
“We’re still here working on the negotiations between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball, with our league,” Ritter said. “That’s still ongoing. We’re trying to do whatever we can to help our community and continue to keep the team here in Grand Junction.”
As for the players, it means continuing to work out on their own — and finding jobs. Most teams, including the Rockies, have agreed to pay their minor league players ($400 per week) through the end of July.
There’s been talk of an expanded Arizona Fall League, but that, too, is still up in the air.
Colorado General Manager Jeff Bridich, on a Zoom conference call with media, said canceling the minor league season was unfortunate, but inevitable.
“It’s not necessarily a surprise, it always kind of seemed somewhat logical that it would be difficult to have a minor league season if we weren’t able to figure out a major league season from an industry finance perspective and also with the COVID pandemic that’s going on,” Bridich said.
“It’s not a huge surprise. It doesn’t necessarily affect our hopes of what could happen in the fall ... if we can still find ways to get some guys on the field, because it’s the right thing to do and if it won’t interfere with their health and allow us to help develop those players, we’ll try to do that. There’s really no knowing whether that’s possible even now.”
Minor league coaches will continue to work in various capacities, Bridich said.
“Especially now that there has been the official announcement that the minor league season will not happen, there’s work to be done to reassure our minor league players that we are going to continue to work with them weekly, daily, small group, large group, in different ways to try to make the most of this time,” Bridich said. “Our staff members are a huge part of that and that process has begun in earnest.”
Colorado has signed five of its six 2020 draft picks, plus two free agents, and all of them were slated to begin their careers in Grand Junction.
For the GJ Rockies’ three full-time employees, not having a 2020 season means they start on 2021. The Rockies furloughed Kyle Kercheval, the director of broadcasting and sales, at the end of last week. Ritter and Assistant GM Matt Allen are turning their attention to next season.
“We were ready, excited and boom, there it goes,” Ritter said. “It’s unfortunate, but the way we look at it, we immediately start planning for 2021 now. There’s definitely a hope. Realistically we have a year and 2021 should be a fantastic year, full of baseball and all sports ready to go.”