In a normal year, the Long Island Ducks would be looking to open their season at the end of this month. Their media day, fan fest and exhibition game would probably would have been played tomorrow.
But as we all know this isn’t a normal year.
Instead the Ducks, like every other baseball team, is just sitting and waiting until the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
However, unlike most other minor league teams in the area, the Ducks are independent, meaning they don’t have a major league club backing them. So, unlike say, the Brooklyn Cyclones, which are funded by the Mets, Long Island’s club is an independent business and has the same struggles as a local restaurant or shop that was shut down by NY PAUSE.
That said, according to Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff, because of the timing of the pandemic, the players contracts didn’t kick in yet, so they are not on the hook for those contracts and the full time staff are being paid by the federally backed small business loans.
“Our players contracts start at the beginning of the season, so our players have not reported for work, when Governor Cuomo shut down non-essential businesses in Mar. 18,” Pfaff said in a phone conversation with NY Sports Day. “We have reached out to our entire roster of players and stayed in touched with them and what information we can tell them, we gave them.
“But there are a lot of unknowns at this point.”
Those unknowns are new territory for everyone. The Ducks are no different. Pfaff hopes there will be a season, but at this point it’s still up in the air.
Fortunately for the club, the players will not require an extended spring training. They usually only require 10 days to prepare for the start of the season, because most players are in affiliated camps before reporting to the Ducks.
So, if – and this is just an example – the Ducks get the all clear to play on Jun. 15, they could open the season on Jul. 1.
Right now, according to Pfaff, the Ducks have 20 players signed out of the normal 27-man roster. This is normal for the middle of March, as they wait for players to be released by big league organizations. When Pfaff gets the okay, he will be scrambling to find other players to fill out the roster, as will all other independent teams.
It’s going to make for a tricky situation, considering no one knows what will happen to the affiliated minors this season.
Even with all of that worked out, the worry is about how many games can be fit into the season and what kinds of crowds the Ducks will draw if or when the gates open.
“Unlike major league baseball, which gets about 75% of its revenue from television contracts, we need the income from ticket sales and concessions to run the team,” Pfaff said.
That’s the issue. No one knows, even if the Atlantic League season begins, what kind of crowds will be coming to Central Islip. Also, what precautions will have to be taken. The team normally averages in the high 5,000s for attendance per game. Would that capacity have to be reduced for social distancing?
All of this will need to be worked out if there is going to be a 2020 season for the Ducks.
It’s going to be interesting to say the least.