The Oneonta Outlaws are scheduled to open their 11th season May 29 with a home game against the Glens Falls Dragons, but the COVID-19 pandemic is making a 55th consecutive summer of baseball in Oneonta look like anything but a certainty.
The sports world has essentially shut down since the novel coronavirus made its way into the United States, with cancellations or postponements affecting more events, from the professional ranks to youth organizations, than it has left alone. Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League President Robert Julian announced on March 14 via a statement on the league’s website that the league “will follow all of the CDC recommendations and standards as established by the NCAA and the baseball industry with regard to commencing the season and protecting the health and well-being of the players, our staff and fans.”
Just more than a month later, no specific updates have been announced regarding the status of the 2020 season, leaving the Outlaws and the rest of the PCBL in an uncertain spot.
“Everybody’s waiting just like everything else,” Outlaws owner Gary Laing said.
“That question has been asked by a lot of players across the country,” Outlaws general manager and head coach Joe Hughes said. “I say just follow the MLB and see what they do. Whatever Major League Baseball’s starting date is will be our starting date.”
Each Wednesday, the PGCBL’s team owners connect for a conference call. Laing said the most frustrating aspect is that since everybody is affected, the only thing that can be done is to wait, leaving many questions without answers.
Still, Laing feels a decision is going to have to be made, one way or another, fairly soon.
“Eventually, in the next two or three weeks, everyone is going to have to make decisions for June (and) afterward,” Laing said. “It’s just a matter a time.”
While no decision has been made on the season itself, Hughes said the league expanded the roster maximum from 35 players to 40 players.
“My position players were set a while ago, so I’ve pretty much just narrowed it down to pitchers,” Hughes said. “We have more pitchers than we normally carry.”
Along with the roster reconfiguration, Damaschke Field, which has hosted baseball in Oneonta since 1906, is undergoing renovations that began in October. Hughes said Monday he was told May 1 was the target date for those initial renovations to be completed.
Both Laing and Hughes are currently operating under the assumption that the season will start on time and will be completed in full. Hughes still needs to field a team and Laing still needs to manage the business side of the organization until told otherwise.
Laing told The Daily Star in early August that despite running a small year-to-year deficit, he was committed to continuing the venture because of its value in the community. But the financial fallout of a lost or delayed season is difficult to say at the moment, according to Laing, who mentioned it has been a struggle finding advertising partners during this pandemic.
“If we don’t play, there’s still bills to pay,” Laing said. “It has to do with advertising at the ballpark. It’s a financial impact for everybody.
“People aren’t paying for outfield fence signs because it’s closed. Financially, it’s very difficult,” he continued.
Even with all the uncertainty of what the future holds, Hughes and Laing are keeping their spirits up.
“Everyone’s guessing, but I think everyone’s hoping it’ll be (back to normal) sooner rather than later,” Hughes said. “You have to mind the safety of everyone involved.”
“I’m optimistic. Why not?” Laing said. “Until I have to make a decision, I’m optimistic.”