Curto, Tacoma Rainiers

Baseball Is Back –> Blog Is Back

We’re back! It’s been a minute since the last blog post.

A lot has happened since I last wrote here. The 2020 season got cancelled, the pandemic got worse, then it got better, then it got worse, then it got better, a bunch of us got vaccinated, and now we’re getting ready to start a season of Triple-A baseball this Thursday at Cheney Stadium.

I can’t wait to get back on the air and broadcast some Rainiers games again. It’s been far too long since we had professional baseball in Tacoma, and I miss it. A return to Cheney Stadium is a return to normalcy, in my mind at least.

That being said, this is going to be the strangest season ever seen at Cheney Stadium. How strange? The Tacoma Rainiers are home on both July 3rd and July 4th. That never happens.

We’ll start the year with attendance limitations as defined by the state, county, and city governments and health departments. The Rainiers front office is going to continue to work with government officials to provide a safe experience at Cheney Stadium. Rules about seating capacity and social distancing are going to continue to change and we all just have to be flexible.

While we’ve been away, Major League Baseball took complete control over the affiliated minor leagues in a contentious battle that included the removal of many small franchises. MLB reorganized the leagues, affiliations, and classifications while eliminating all of the traditional league offices and league names in an attempt to streamline the industry.

Tacoma is still Triple-A, and remains the top affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, and plays most of the same familiar opponents – but not entirely. Tacoma was placed in a ten-team league temporarily called “Triple-A West” that will have two five-team divisions. The Rainiers division will include Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake and Las Vegas. The other five teams in the league are El Paso, Albuquerque, Round Rock, Oklahoma City, and new Triple-A city Sugar Land. There will be crossover play between divisions, with the Rainiers even making a road trip to Sugar Land. I had to use Google and it turns out that Sugar Land is a suburb of Houston, Willy Wonka is the mayor, and its most in-demand industry is dentistry. Never forget your toothbrush when taking a road trip to Sugar Land.

The schedule was trimmed to 120 games when MLB decided that delaying the season by a month would give players and fans more time to get vaccinated. So April was scrapped, and we are starting this week. The season has been extended two weeks beyond the traditional closing date of Labor Day.

One aspect of the new schedule that will likely survive in a post-Covid world is the six-game series. Every series is six games, and every Wednesday is an off day, with no exceptions. Both MLB and the minor league team operators like this because it means less cumulative travel (and fewer travel expenses) over the course of the season. The scouts like it because they can see every player on a team in one series. None of these people have to attempt to survive a 13-day, 12-game trip to Las Vegas and Reno like the one the Rainiers will embark upon in late July.

Because of Covid-19 and the tenuous nature of sports during a pandemic, both the Triple-A All-Star Game and the league playoffs were discarded for this year. These events – particularly the All-Star Game – require extensive planning and it just seemed prudent to wait until 2022 to bring them back. They even eliminated the all-star break, since giving the players three days to scatter off to wherever they wanted and then rush back into action is an obvious Covid risk.

That’s a lot of change, but at least we were spared from any of the significant MLB rule experiments that are being tested throughout the minors. We do have one: slightly larger bases will be used in Triple-A West games, a change which will probably only be noticed by first basemen. Discussions I’ve had with my baseball friends about this change have generated indifference and apathy.

There’s also change here on the blog: we’ve moved, and are now part of the web world. Bookmark this page, as I’ll be writing frequently throughout the season. We’re planning on daily pregame reports and a “Week In Review” angle on Sundays.

Next up will be a roster review and a look at the broadcast plans for 2021 prior to Thursday’s opener. If you missed the news, the Mariners announced the Triple-A roster and it is now available right here.

Thanks for reading, and it will be great to have people back at Cheney Stadium!

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