A lost season? Minor league teams, players face bleak future

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Downtown Fort Wayne, Ind., is seen from an empty Parkview Field on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Mike Nutter is surrounded by questions everywhere he goes these days. So the longtime president of the Fort Wayne TinCaps is planning for every scenario he can imagine, one at a time. While Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to play this summer, the prospects for anything resembling a normal minor league season are looking increasingly bleak. For minor league communities across the country, looking forward to cheap hot dogs, fuzzy mascot hugs and various theme nights, it's a small slice of a depressing picture. (Mike Moore/The Journal-Gazette via AP)

CHICAGO – Mike Nutter is surrounded by questions everywhere he goes these days. So the longtime president of the Fort Wayne TinCaps is planning for each scenario he can imagine, one at a time.

What does minor league baseball look like in the COVID-19 age? What happens if his Class A team plays only half a season?

And the big one: What if there are no games at all?

While Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to play this summer, the prospects for anything resembling a normal minor league season are increasingly bleak.

For minor league communities across the country from Albuquerque to Akron, looking forward to cheap hot dogs, fuzzy mascot hugs and Elvis theme nights, it's a small slice of a depressing picture.

Attendance at minor league games last year was more than 41.5 million, a 2.6% increase over 2018 and the 15th straight year with more than 40 million fans.

Among the most popular teams in the minors is the Durham Bulls. But no club is immune from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The Bulls recently placed more than half of their front-office staff on furlough.

“I’m still holding out hope, but we’re also being realistic that the challenges we face over the next few months are pretty severe just because we are so spread out around the country,” Bulls vice president Mike Birling said.