Opening night at Hadlock Field in Portland in April 2018. “Until we are told otherwise, we are going to remain hopeful that at some point we can have baseball at Hadlock this season,” says Sea Dogs president and general manger Geoff Iacuessa. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

It became somewhat of a running joke with the Portland Sea Dogs and their ever-positive outlook. No matter the weather forecast, the Sea Dogs front office prepared for a game, offering hope that maybe, just maybe, the rain may stop, and they might play baseball.

But the Sea Dogs are also realists. Prospects for a 2020 season, with fans streaming into Hadlock Field, are dimming because of the coronavirus outbreak.

A press release issued by the franchise on Wednesday contained these words:

“Despite the increasing likelihood we will not be able to host fans this season …”

The statement continued that their game day workers would still get paid.

But those words – “not be able to host fans” – brought another dose of reality to the surface.

Interestingly, on the same day, the office of minor league baseball released a statement in an attempt to squash a rumor that there will be no minor league baseball this year:

“No decision has been made as to when it will be safe to begin the 2020 season.”

The rumor was fueled by media reports, one by baseball writer Joe Doyle in SBNation.com that cited agents “informally” being advised that there would be no season. Earlier in the week, respected ESPN writer Jeff Passan opined that there is little chance for a minor league season – “Probably not” – except possible “official” games played at teams’ minor league complexes.

Teams playing in complexes in Arizona and Florida makes sense, given that some areas of the country are still overwhelmed by the outbreak.

In Maine, Gov. Janet Mills has announced a tiered plan to reopen businesses, but the time frame for lifting all restrictions is undetermined. Mills’ plan expands gatherings from 10 to 50 people on June 1.  But it stays at 50 through July 31.

From the Sea Dogs’ press release:

“While our season is still officially delayed, we do want to respect Governor Janet Mills’ re-opening plans … given those guidelines we want to be fair and transparent to our fans on how we are planning to move forward at this time.”

The Sea Dogs are not lobbying government leaders.

“We have not had any formal discussions with Gov. Mills or city officials,” said Geoff Iacuessa, the Sea Dogs’ president and general manager. “The reality is, right now, they have much more pressing concerns to worry about than discussing hypothetical scenarios with us.

The sun shines bright on the marquee of Sea Dogs mascot, Slugger, announcing the opening day of the season in front of Hadlock Field on Park Street. Gordon Chibroski / Portland Press Herald

“Like everyone, we have more questions than answers and, until we have some guidance from the league on what a proposed season may look like, there isn’t anything we can even bring to them to discuss.”

Major League Baseball appears close to a plan of playing games in empty ballparks – either at the teams’ home stadiums or at ballparks in Arizona, Florida and possibly Texas. But games without fans would still have hordes of people watching on television. The Portland Sea Dogs playing in an empty Hadlock Field makes less sense.

“Obviously our business model is based on having fans in the stands, so from a business perspective, it would be tough not to have fans,” Iacuessa said.

“But if it were permitted by the state, and is that is the direction MLB and MiLB want to go, we as an organization will make it happen.

“To that point, I think it would be possible to have a limited number of fans, but it would really depend on how many we could have and then sorting out who gets to come in. It certainly isn’t an optimal scenario from a business perspective, but from a development perspective, we will remain ready if needed.”

Another scenario could have minor league players reporting to their complexes in Florida and Arizona for workouts and eventual games – with the chance of reporting to their host city in August.

“I think even a month of games would be great,” Iacuessa said. “It means that the community is in a place where there is a safe environment to play. It would be a nice way to finish out the summer and head into the offseason.

“Whether that can happen remains to be seen, but until we are told otherwise, we are going to remain hopeful that at some point we can have baseball at Hadlock this season.”

The Sea Dogs have begun offering ticket refunds, or exchanges for the 2021 season.

But the organization, like every baseball fan, holds out hope that there still might be games in 2020.

NOTES: Another joy of summer, the New England Collegiate Baseball League, which includes the popular Sanford Mainers, announced Friday that its 2020 season was canceled. … One former Sea Dogs player will soon be playing. Pitcher Casey Kelly, the 2008 Red Sox first-round draft pick who made 21 starts for Portland in 2010, is playing in the South Korean professional league, which begins its season Tuesday. … The pandemic became too real for the Tri-City ValleyCats minor league team in Troy, New York. Team owner Bill Gladstone, 88, died Thursday from complications related to COVID-19.


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