USPBL owner and CEO Andy Appleby

Please, Don’t Take the Field

On June 10th there will be professional baseball in America. It won’t come from Major League Baseball or Minor League Baseball. Nor will one of the major independent leagues such as the Atlantic League or American Association be playing. Rather, the four-team United Shore Professional Baseball League will hold it’s Opening Day. Get ready for the Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers, Utica Unicorns, and Westside Wooly Mammoths to be live and in your living room on June 10th.

For as much as there is the desire to be amped that more baseball is returning I find myself left with many concerns. I enjoy watching USPBL games and have come to enjoy the cozy atmosphere of games at Jimmy John’s Field. Even streamed in my Milwaukee, Wisconsin living room the intimate nature and coziness of Jimmy John’s Field (all USPBL games are played at the 4,000 seat field) are evident. Like everyone reading this site I love baseball and want more of it to return. Especially when you’re a fan like me who watches unaffiliated ball more than affiliated ball, the return of more unaffiliated action should be good news.

Unlike MLB’s plan where games can take place without fans the same is not true of the USPBL contests to come. The Utica, Michigan based league intends to have fans in the stands. League Chief Executive Officer and owner Andy Appleby expressed as such to The Detroit News in a May 13th interview. In said Interview Appleby expressed a desire to be the first professional baseball league to take the field in America. At the same time Appleby laid out some of the plans the league has to keep fans safe.

For starters the league will limit capacity at Jimmy John’s field to 1,500 fans who will be spaced out in their seats approximately 6 feet apart. Upon arriving at the stadium fans will have their temperatures checked, and if they didn’t order tickets online will order from fully isolated ticket sellers using only debit/credit cards. New automatic hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed throughout the ballpark. The bathroom areas will have an attendant on hand throughout every game whose only job is to disinfect and clean commonly touched areas. The bathroom itself will feature every other stall or urinal roped off and closed so as to maintain social distancing.

The players and staff will undergo daily health screenings and temperature checks as well as weekly COVID-19 testing. Any positive test means that the staff member or player will be placed under a fourteen-day quarantine. Platers won’t be allowed to spit, chew gum, or go to their mouths during the game. Umpires won’t be allowed to do those things either and will also be outfitted with gloves and a face mask.

The above all seem like good measures, however, I’m not sold that they are enough. The main issues I have with the above are the testing and actual gameplay. Both are complicated issues and the interview with The Detroit News glosses over them and does not go in-depth in any satisfying way.

The usage of the tests is concerning for a couple of reasons. First, that means that tests are being taken away from first responders and health care professionals. My stance on this is simple, I am not okay with tests being used for a sporting event while certain pockets of the country are still struggling to have enough testing available for frontline workers. There’s also the question of what type of testing will be done? There are a number of COVID-19 tests available, some are more accurate than others and a certain number of testing methods have been proven to be wholly inadequate.

In terms of the actual gameplay, what measures are being taken in-between pitches or even during play? Not allowing chewing, spitting, etc. is a great start, but players will inevitably be touching bats and balls. At that point what is stopping the spread of person to person contact? On one play you could have a pitcher, shortstop, and first baseman touching a baseball with their bare hands. Any of them could be an asymptomatic carrier. No one wants to grapple with the reality of asymptomatic carriers, but until there is a vaccine present it simply does not pass any sort of test that large sporting events would be taking place in a country that has in no way taken the proper measures to contain the virus.

In the end I don’t blame Appleby for wanting the USPBL to have games with fans in the stands. The reality is that is fans aren’t in the stands then there is no USPBL season and the league likely folds at some point. That would suck, but I’m not willing to sacrifice lives for capitalism. If the USPBL or any other professional league has to go under in order for people to live then that is a sacrifice we should all be willing to make. 

The United States is not Taiwan or South Korea, our response to COVID-19 has been laughably bad in comparison to the response of those two countries. They can have baseball back because their governments took the spread of the virus seriously and instituted measures to get their country back to a safer place. The United States did not and as the death count continues to rise there’s no way to justify baseball taking place with fans in the stands when we know that it is not safe enough for fans to be at the ballparks yet. I love baseball, but I love people being alive even more, that means baseball as we know it can wait a while longer to come back.

Lead photo courtesy of Brett Mountain – Seen

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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