Volcanoes season delayed indefinitely

Kwan Atkins (10) greets Beicker Mendoza at home plate in a Volcanoes victory from last summer (File).

Under normal circumstances, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes would have been starting their season this week. 

But as the coronavirus continues its prevalence across the country, baseball remains on hold.

On Friday, June 12, the Northwest League (NWL) made the official announcement that their season would be delayed indefinitely. 

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the 2020 Northwest League season is being delayed indefinitely. The league and its clubs will continue to monitor the situation and work with our Major League Baseball affiliates, while following the recommendations of public health officials and adhering to local reopening guidelines,” the NWL press release said. “As always, the health and safety of the Northwest League fans, players and staff members is our top priority.”

The NWL also decided to cancel the league’s annual All-Star Game.

While the main cause of the season delay has been due to the spread of the coronavirus over the last three months, the labor dispute between Major League Baseball (MLB) owners and the league’s player’s association is currently halting any chance for professional baseball this summer.

Although it was announced in April that the MLB season could begin as early as July — at neutral sites with no fans in attendance — there is now a possibility that the season could be cancelled if the two sides can’t agree to a deal to return to the field. 

With no MLB baseball, organizations don’t have the ability to send their prospects to their Minor League affiliates, meaning the Volcanoes, as well as the rest of Minor League Baseball (MiLB), wouldn’t have the ability to play, regardless of where individual states are at with COVID-19 cases.

“A lot of this comes down to the MLB. They supply the players, so the longer that this stalemate goes on, the less likely our chances are to have a season,” said Volcanoes CEO Mickey Walker.

However, even if MLB resolves their labor issues and returns to the field, it would still be tough for many MiLB leagues to hold an abbreviated season in certain regions of the country with the different regulations that states have for dealing with COVID-19. 

If the NWL does have a season, it would likely take place without fans. And without a television deal, teams wouldn’t see any revenue outside of sponsorships. 

Walker admitted that many of his colleagues in the NWL are doubtful there will be a season.  

“The glimmer of hope that we have is getting smaller and smaller. I would say that most organizations feel the same way,” Walker said. 

Even though there isn’t baseball, the Volcanoes are still looking to provide fans with entertainment in a different way. The organization is hosting a pair of drive-in firework nights at the stadium on June 19 and June 26. Gates open at 9 p.m. and the cost is $10 per vehicle.

Walker says that the Volcanoes plan to have additional fireworks nights later on this summer, including on the Fourth of July. 

Additionally, the Volcanoes plan to host a Senior Day Weekend July 31 through August 2, giving prep senior baseball players from around the state one last chance to take the field in an organized scrimmage. Eighty-five senior ballplayers have already signed up for the weekend series according to Walker.

“We want to give those guys the senior day treatment they didn’t get to have,” Walker said. 

As the organization waits for an ultimate decision on the 2020 season, the Volcanoes also have to wait for a decision on the new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) between MiLB and MLB that could affect their future — the Volcanoes were on a list of 42 minor league teams that could potentially lose their Major League affiliate (San Francisco) if MLB’s proposal is accepted.

The harsh reality is that the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes could have already played their final game as an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. However, Walker maintains that even if their affiliation is stripped, the Volcanoes will continue to pursue playing in the NWL in 2021.

“We have a lot of optimism that the MLB wants to keep the Northwest League as an eight-team league. But even if we end up on the wrong side of this thing, we want to have baseball at the stadium moving forward,” Walker said.