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Disappointing, but realistic: Miller Express react to cancellation of WCBL season

Western Canadian Baseball League shuts down 2020 campaign due to COVID-19 outbreak
Express team baseline
The Moose Jaw Miller Express saw their Western Canadian Baseball League season cancelled on Wednesday night.
The Western Canadian Baseball League and their teams knew it was only a matter of time, but all that did was make things a little easier to take when the announcement finally came down.

The WCBL announced on Wednesday night that after a conference call with the various team governors, the league had officially decided to cancel the 2020 season.

‘I think we all knew it was coming, we were probably more disappointed a month ago as the reality was setting in,” said Miller Express general manager Cory Olafson. “By now, we’ve had weeks, over a month to deal with this and realize there probably wasn’t going to be the season.

"There are some people who are just finding out, like our billets, they’re disappointed. They obviously know the situation and understand. Ball fans get used to watching ball in the summer time and it’s disappointing we won’t have it this year.”

It’s also a tough situation for the players themselves, especially the seniors who would have been playing their final WCBL season.

“They have a four-year shelf life in this league, and while they’ll be getting a year of eligibility back, the seniors who have graduated probably aren’t going to go back to take a couple of courses, just to play baseball,” Olafson said. “So it’s tough for them… for a lot of these guys, this is there last hurrah before they join the rat race.”

To say the league was going to have a difficult time just getting things started is an understatement.

The first and largest issue revolved around U.S. college and university players making their way into Canada. With the federal government having closed the border until at least June 22, and a 14-day period of self-isolation to immediately follow for players who did cross over, it would be mid July at earliest that play could have started. With no sign of let-up in the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., odds are the border won’t be opening at the end of June in any case.

The league floated a plan to use only Canadian players and start around July 4, but that solution quickly lead into another host of issues surrounding isolation orders.

Even with a provincial decree that gatherings of 50 people are allowed, teams, umpires, scorekeepers and other day-to-day game personnel would likely push over that number well before fans were ever allowed in the ballpark.

In Saskatchewan, that size of gathering would mark Phase 5, the final official opening of the province at the end of the COVID-19 outbreak, with no date being even remotely considered at this point.

Social distancing factors also play into things.

Clubhouses – like the Miller Express dressing in the bowels of Ross Wells Park – are often near-claustrophobic spaces, leaving no room for players to maintain six feet of distance. Throw in the close proximity in dugouts and utterly impossible task of distancing during bus travel, and things get exponentially more difficult.

Then, of course, there are the fans.

With a gathering of 50 likely being exceeded just by teams and personnel, that would leave no room for the very reason players play the game. Considerations were given to heavily reduced stadium capacities, mandatory masks and temperature checks, but once the financial implications were factored into things given the minuscule crowds that would result, those too were set aside.

“Our fans make the WCBL stadiums a special place to play for the players during the summer, giving them a chance to play in front of thousands of people in Alberta and Saskatchewan,” the WCBL said in a press release. “The community support the league and its teams have received over the past number of years is fantastic! As a league we have plans to implement a strategy to stay relevant and connected until we can get back on the field. With no baseball this summer, teams will need community support more than ever as they shift to survive this crisis.”