Volcanoes plan for season with fan restriction

Travis Perry had a record of 5-2 in 14 appearances last season for the Volcanoes (File).

The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes are still making plans to return to the field in 2020, even if it means playing with a limited number of fans in the stands. 

On Thursday, May 7, Gov. Kate Brown said in a press conference that large gatherings, including sporting events, should be cancelled or modified until October — unless effective prevention and treatment for the coronavirus is available.

The announcement puts the Volcanoes in a precarious situation, especially since their home opener is scheduled for June 17. 

Even though Oregon is one the only states to have made such an announcement to this point, the seven other organizations have similar concerns on how they can operate due to the coronavirus, which is why representatives from each Northwest League (NWL) organization met on Wednesday, May 13 to discuss if and how they could move forward if a restriction on fans was in place for the entire season. 

“We talked about if we could operate at 50 percent capacity or even 25 percent capacity. The league itself is hoping to have three to four different plans in place based on how things move forward from here,” Volcanoes CEO Mickey Walker said. “We don’t know how it will play out. We just want to have different plans in place.”

If the NWL is able to have a season with limited fans, Walker says that teams would request assistance from their Major League Baseball (MLB) affiliates to cover some expenses in order to make that a reality. 

Earlier this month, MLB owners and league management finalized a plan that would allow baseball to start in early-July without fans — in order to proceed with an abbreviated season, all proposed ideas would need to be agreed upon by the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).

This is a feasible solution for the MLB because of their multi-billion dollar television agreements — a luxury that isn’t available to Minor League teams.

While Walker is hoping that, if a season takes place, they will get some financial assistance from the San Francisco Giants — the Volcanoes MLB affiliate — to cover things like travel and hotel fees, the Volcanoes still plan to operate under whatever fan restrictions are in place, even if they don’t get help from the Giants.

“It would be very tough for any NWL team to run a sound business if only 25 percent of the stands could be full. But if the MLB asked us to still operate at 25 percent capacity, we would make it work, Walker said. 

Walker admitted that the organization wants to appease MLB during this process, especially with a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) on the table that could affect the future of the Volcanoes. 

A proposal from MLB last year included a plan to overhaul the current minor league system and cut ties with 42 of their lower level minor league teams — the Volcanoes were on the original list of teams that would be cut. 

Walker is hoping that the Volcanoes willingness to be cooperative will put them in the good graces of the MLB when a new PBA is reached — which will likely be in September. 

“We would be willing to do just about anything for a new PBA that would be in our favor,” Walker said. “It’s much more important to keep our affiliation, so we’re hoping that our cooperation will help us out in the long run.”

If the Volcanoes do have a season with limited fans, the organization will still have to come up with plans to make sure people are adhering to social distancing guidelines inside the stadium. 

“Fans would be required to remain six feet apart at all times except for those who live in the same household. We are also working on how fans can enter and exit the stadium safely,” Walker said.

It is still unknown if there will be Volcanoes baseball this summer — or if the season will start on time if there is one. But Walker is encouraged about the progress that has been made. 

“At this point, it’s hard to say if we will have a season, but the fact that the MLB is getting further down the road bodes well for us, because if the MLB doesn’t play, we won’t either,” Walker said. “We’re remaining optimistic and preparing for whatever scenario we face.”