Although he is still in the last week of his initial stint as the field coordinator of the California Winter League in Palm Springs, Fla., Southern Maryland Blue Crabs manager Stan Cliburn realized the first week of February unofficially marked the first week of the spring season.
On Feb. 1 the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball opened the signing period for player contracts and then the following day announced that the 2021 season will begin on May 28. A complete league schedule is expected to be released in the coming weeks, but the announcements of player signings and the start of the upcoming season were welcome news to Cliburn.
“I expect the full schedule will probably be released sometime later this month,” Cliburn said. “I think the players, coaches and fans are all eager to get back into the stadiums again. Last year was the first time I had not been on the baseball field during the spring for almost 50 years. I know how much me and the players want to get back on the field.”
On Feb. 2, ALPB President Rick White announced the season would begin on May 28. With the 2020 season nixed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, White noted the ALPB will work with local government officials to ensure that the safety of coaches, players and spectators is given top priority once the season begins.
“Our priority is protecting public welfare, and we still have much work to do,” White said. “The league is finalizing the admission of new teams, concluding player signings and working with our Major League Baseball partners on test initiatives for the  campaign.”
With the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball season expected to commence on time this spring following a year in which it was among the countless athletic casualties of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Cliburn has been able to begin planning for the future with the Blue Crabs while taking a trip down memory lane in Palm Springs, the former home of the California Angels spring training site. Cliburn spent the 1980 season with the Angels, his lone year in the majors.
“Being out here in Palm Springs brings back a lot of good memories,” Cliburn said. “My first year in spring training with the Angels was in 1977 and then I made it onto the big club in 1980. I really only expect to sign one or two guys out here. There are over 100 players out here. Most of the guys we had signed for 2020 I am expecting back this spring.”
The ALPB is now an officially designated MLB Professional Partner.
“With the return of Atlantic League baseball getting closer, it is time to enable team managers and coaches to build their rosters and ensure the highly competitive level of play that fans have come to expect in the Atlantic League for more than two decades,” ALPB President Rick White said.
When Major League Baseball condensed its minor league system from 160 teams down to 120 teams last fall, two longtime ALPB teams, the Sugar Land Skeeters out of Texas and the Somerset Patriots actually became MLB affiliates, while the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs remained an independent club. Cliburn insists the quality of play in the ALPB made it an ideal partner league for the MLB.
“Of all the independent leagues across the country, the Atlantic League is definitely rated as the best one,” Cliburn said. “A lot of the guys are older and have had major league experience. I expect the Atlantic League will probably have a schedule completed soon and by April or May we’ll be back on the field playing games again.”
Of note, the Atlantic League also announced late last week that it had reached an agreement with OT Sports Industries to provide the teams with their on-field apparel including jerseys, pants, outerwear, performance tees, shorts and other authentic items through the 2026 season.