Light rain falls outside Hadlock Field on Tuesday, shortly after Minor League Baseball announced that the 2020 season would be canceled. The Portland Sea Dogs will return next season, according to team chairman Bill Burke, but many other minor league franchises may not survive. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When the Minor League Baseball season was officially canceled on Tuesday – another victim of the coronavirus pandemic – its president and CEO, Pat O’Conner, tossed in as many positives as he could during a conference call with reporters

“The ones who get to the other side of this will get to the other side stronger,” O’Conner said.

But O’Conner was also a realist, knowing not every minor league team is going to get to the other side.

“It’s north of half (of the 160 minor league teams) who could either have to sell (or go bankrupt),” said O’Conner, who is hoping for some type of government assistance for minor league teams.

“This is a perfect storm … We’re looking into a hazy future … So many unknowns.”

Interestingly, a contraction of minor league teams is something Major League Baseball has been seeking for 2021 – not half of the franchises, but 25 percent cut that could affect about 40 franchises.

O’Conner was fighting that proposal last winter, before the virus outbreak. Now the pandemic may cause the attrition that MLB wanted.

Does that give MLB leverage in its negotiations with O’Conner and the minor leagues?

“Leverage is a relative term. I don’t think it helps in any way to be dark (not playing),” O’Connor said.

“Discussions (with MLB) are at a standstill. It’s been probably six weeks since (we’ve talked). They have a pretty meaty issue on their plate (starting the MLB season) and I understand that.”

The Binghamton Rumble Ponies, an Eastern League opponent of the Portland Sea Dogs, may be a casualty of minor league contraction. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When negotiations resume, MLB will have the upper hand, which likely means fewer minor league teams. Two of the franchises that may be in jeopardy of contraction are Eastern League opponents of the Portland Sea Dogs: The Binghamton Rumble Ponies and the Erie SeaWolves.

“The coronavirus has cut into many clubs’ ability to make it,” O’Conner said. “There is going to be some attrition.

“This will change minor league baseball going forward … This will forever change the way we do business.”

THE SEA DOGS are one of the teams that will make it. Team chairman Bill Burke affirmed that last week. “The Sea Dogs will survive and be back next year,” he said.

The franchise’s solvency was demonstrated when it announced in April that all of its employees, including game-day workers, would be paid this season regardless if any games were to be played.

Team president Geoff Iacuessa said the Sea Dogs paid their 2020 rent for Hadlock Field to the city of Portland, which owns the ballpark. The rent was $150,000 plus utilities, part of the lease agreement that runs through 2028.

CHARLIE ESHBACH, former president of the Eastern League, and the initial president and general manager of the Sea Dogs, now serves as a senior advisor to the team. He often passes on his experience to Iacuessa, his successor.

“I had a talk with Geoff a while back,” Eshbach said. “I’ve been in this game a long time and as things happen, there’s very little I’ve ever seen that I can’t say I haven’t seen that before.

“But this (pandemic) I haven’t experienced. This is new, and very weird.”

Eshbach is not pleased with MLB’s plan to reduce the number of minor league teams.

“I’m very concerned about it, not only for the minor leagues, but baseball in general,” he said. “Baseball is the one sport with a wider footprint all over the country – selling baseball.

“In a time when attention spans are short and there is a lot of competition (from other forms of entertainment), this could be a mistake.”

BASEBALL STILL COULD be played at Hadlock this summer, just not by the Sea Dogs. Iacuessa said staging a game (or games) is among the brainstorming going on among the front office.

One possibility could be the playoffs for the Maine Summer Sandlot Baseball League at the end of the month. The league was set up for American Legion players who had their season canceled, with games being played at The Ballpark at Old Orchard Beach.

WELL WISHES GO out to former Sea Dogs pitcher Tommy Hottovy who is recovering from a bout with COVID-19. Hottovy, 38, pitched parts of six seasons (2006-11) in Portland. Hottovy endured two Tommy John surgeries and reached the majors in 2011. He is now the pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs.

“I’ve been poked, prodded, tested for the last 16 years in Major League Baseball. I’ve had no underlying issues, nothing that would red flag me as somebody that would get hit pretty hard with this virus,” Hottovy said on a Chicago radio show. Hottovy said he endured the virus for two weeks, including six days of 100-plus temperatures.

“I got crushed.”

Hottovy, now cleared, will resume his role with the Cubs, along with another former Sea Dogs player, Anthony Iapoce (2003), who is the hitting coach.


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