BRISTOL - Friday nightâ€™s news of the New England Collegiate Baseball League canceling its 2020 season may have carried a sense of inevitability given the current outlook for all spring and summer sports during the coronavirus pandemic, but knowledge of that bleak outlook didnâ€™t make the impact any lighter once it became official.
â€śThis was probably the hardest decision the league has ever had to make in its 26 years,â€ť NECBL commissioner Sean McGrath said.
In Bristol, knowledge of a lost season carried some extra weight, as the promise of a new era will now have to wait another calendar year. The Bristol Blues, fresh off of a championship appearance in the Futures League, had taken a step up into the NECBL and were preparing for their inaugural season in the league, but that will now have to wait.
â€śObviously, it's probably more painful for Bristol because of the excitement of the inaugural season returning to the NECBL,â€ť McGrath said. â€śWe had excitement and enthusiasm of returning to Muzzy Field and Opening Day was definitely a day I had circled on my calendar. It's extremely difficult and sad as well.â€ť
For the Blues themselves, there will still be an inaugural season and a celebration of joining a league that has been rated just behind the Cape Cod League for the best summer collegiate baseball league in the country the past two years. It just wonâ€™t be in the summer of 2020. For now, the lights at Muzzy Field will remain off, a rarity for a city so entrenched in the game of baseball.
â€śBaseball is Americana,â€ť Blues manager Ronnie Palmer said. â€śIt's not America's Pastime just to say it is. People love the game and the socialization of the game. Especially Bristol, a very proud baseball community, it touches down to the youth level. We're missing out on a lot of activity that brings the community together in the summer. That's disappointing in itself. Bristol is a baseball community if there ever was one.â€ť
Palmer was also in the camp of cautious hopefuls that a season would happen, but as each day passed and new cancellations came in, like the Little League World Series last week, the reality began to creep in that this would be a particularly unique summer for a man who normally spends those warm months on a sun-splashed diamond.
â€śYou were certainly hoping for the season to exist or at least be delayed,â€ť Palmer said. â€śIt doesn't help the blow, but you certainly understand why they made the decision they did. I said to my wife how this was the first summer for our family where we wouldn't have baseball. What are we going to do with our time? Obviously, you find areas to fill the void, but nothing replaces the game.â€ť
For baseball lifers like Palmer, attention already turns to next spring and summer, when the annual promise and excitement for Opening Day will likely hold even more meaning. Taking away a season of baseball could create an added appreciation when the game returns. It will be much further down the road than the Blues had hoped, but through the pain of a canceled season, hope remains.
â€śI think youâ€™ll see an increase in attendance at legion games, high school games and little league,â€ť Palmer said. â€śI think people miss it and hopefully they'll come out in droves next summer for all levels of the baseball community.â€ť
The same goes for the NECBL as a whole. After another offseason of expansion, there was excitement for the 2020 campaign, and McGrath believes a valuable silver lining of a lost season is the ability to put in that much more effort to give fans a reason to return to the park in 2021.
â€śI think it's very hopeful that our 2021 season will be a smashing success,â€ť McGrath said. â€śWe want to honor all of the essential personnel that have kept our community going through this. After a summer away from the ballpark, I think everyone will have even more of an appetite for the new season.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org