While the Major League Baseball season is still on hold as the owners and players seek to solidify a deal to salvage the 2020 season, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs will soon be returning to the field for a condensed season.
Friday, Atlantic League of Professional Baseball president Rick White confirmed the league will start in mid-July and conclude with a five-game championship series in September. White confirmed the High Point Rockers, Long Island Ducks and Blue Crabs will join several other professional teams in a 70-game season that will get under way next month.
“The Atlantic League and other leagues are in similar positions,” White said in a league news release on Friday. “There are multiple teams in each league at different stages of reopening; therefore some who are able to begin play and some who are not. This solution would pair those clubs able to play and entertain fans at their ballparks, providing a high level of professional baseball and affordable family entertainment.”
Blue Crabs general manager Courtney Knichel is eager to see the season get started. Knichel has maintained a positive attitude throughout the pandemic and was glad to hear White’s announcement that a condensed season is in the works.
“We have been working closely with local and state officials since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Knichel said. “And we have come to a point in which we feel comfortable announcing that we are getting close to playing. The details are yet to come, but this is an extremely exciting first step. Our goal is to bring our community together and help them build back into a stronger Southern Maryland, and we will do so when it’s deemed completely safe.”
Knichel said in an email with Southern Maryland Newspapers on Monday that the 2020 Atlantic League All-Star Game, which was scheduled for July 15 at Regency Furniture Stadium, will be postponed but it has not been officially announced yet and the Blue Crabs will host the event in 2021.
Southern Maryland manager Stan Cliburn has spent the pandemic venturing back-and-forth from Louisiana to Mississippi and he plans on returning to Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium this week to meet with his coaches, Joe Walsh and Daryl Thompson, and begin making plans to convene with his players, many of whom are new to the squad.
“I’ve been in baseball for nearly 50 years and this is the first time since 1974 that I’ve been home throughout the spring,” Cliburn said. “When I spoke with Courtney [on Friday], I was a little nervous because it could have gone either way. I am so glad that Rick White was able to work out a schedule. It still needs to be finalized, but it looks like we’re going to be playing soon.”
Cliburn may not have been able to spend the spring in Southern Maryland, but he remained busy signing players. And while the Blue Crabs will have many new faces on the roster when the season finally gets under way, Cliburn has still been unable to meet with most of them.
“Normally by this time of year we have everyone in place and we all know one another, but I still have yet to formally meet most of my guys,” Cliburn said. “But I’m so glad that we will be back on the field soon. We’ll probably have a limited spring training and then get under way in mid-July. It will be great to see all the guys and be able to play in front of our fans.”
Thompson, the La Plata High School graduate who also serves as the Blue Crabs’ pitching coach, is looking forward to the start of the 2020 campaign. Thompson led the Atlantic League in wins (15) and strikeouts (162) last season en route to being named the league’s top pitcher.
“We’re going to have a lot of new guys on the staff this year,” Thompson said. “But I’m looking forward to sitting down and meeting with each one of them and going over some things that we need to work on this season. It’s going to be great to get back on the field this season and play as many games as possible.”
Friday’s release noted that the Lancaster Barnstormers will open its Clipper Magazine Stadium to host an outdoor summer movie series as well as other events and the club will make its ballpark available for baseball and softball teams.
It also said that Lancaster and the York Revolution have discussed options to bring professional baseball to Central Pennsylvania this summer and turn their long-time friendly rivalry into a new community outreach initiative.
York plans to use its PeoplesBank Park for a variety of events, including youth and adult league baseball games.
The release noted that the Somerset Patriots will host numerous events at its TD Bank Ballpark, including a localized version of professional baseball pending approval.
The Sugar Land Skeeters previously announced that it would host a four-team professional baseball league at their home ballpark, Constellation Field, from July 3 to Aug. 23.
“These activities epitomize the innovation of Atlantic League clubs,” White said in Friday’s news release. “Our clubs value their deep connections to their communities. In a season unlike any other, our teams have responded with remarkable commitment to their cities in a variety of innovative and economical ways and with a focus on the health and safety of guests who enter our parks for games and other events.”