PORT ANGELES — With West Coast League teams in Bellingham, Oregon and British Columbia canceling their seasons in recent days due to state and provincial government directives concerning the coronavirus, the prospects for the summer wood-bat league look dire.
Port Angeles Lefties co-owner Matt Acker realizes this, but instead of taking his ball team and going home, Acker is exploring how Civic Field could become the home of a collegiate baseball mini-league this summer, conditioned on the support of the public, business backing and Clallam County reaching Phase 3 and eventually Phase 4 of the state government’s plan to re-open businesses and activities.
And after sourcing public opinion through surveys on the team’s and the area Choose Clallam Facebook pages, he’s reaching out to have his plan formally vetted by county public health officials before moving on to court approval from the city of Port Angeles, with Acker hoping to eventually receive the formal blessing of a city council vote before moving forward.
“Our West Coast League season is not going to happen,” Acker said. “With the state of Oregon shutting down all sports until September, Canada not likely to open their borders until October, some Washington cities not allowing sites to be used, the reality of it is there will not be a WCL 2020 season.
“So, I’ve come up with an idea that I believe will be safe and positive for the community and good for the game of baseball.”
The idea involves hosting around four teams of up to 20 college-age players, most of whom would come from college and universities along the West Coast, with the potential for North Olympic Peninsula players who lost out on their senior seasons of high school baseball to participate.
All players would quarantine at home before arriving in Port Angeles and would continue to be held in quarantine for the duration of their time in town. Acker said asking the community to host players as per usual is not feasible, so he has secured a hotel with enough rooms to house players separately.
Games would be held two sessions Tuesdays through Sundays and would be broadcast online only at the start without fans in the Civic Field stands to comply with Phase 3 guidelines that limit recreational activities and gatherings to less than 50 people.
If Clallam County were able to reach Phase 4 during this mini-league season, all recreational activity would be able to resume, along with gatherings of more than 50 people, the green light needed to bring back live sporting events with fans practicing physical distancing and following best hygiene practices.
Players would have to follow the strict quarantine edict, or face the consequences.
“They would quarantine prior to coming, quarantine while here and have strict requirements on travel,” Acker said. “Essentially, they would come in and live and play in a bubble, because if it spreads within our group, it’s over and they go home. “Even if it is spreading through the community, but not through the players, I would probably pull the plug. Those would be the worst-case scenarios.”
Acker acknowledges there’s a level of risk to bringing players here and confining them to the ballpark and their own bedrooms for much of the summer, but said he believes they would comply. And if they didn’t he would soon hear about it, and promptly deal with it.
“If they want to play baseball, that’s the decision they would have to make,” Acker said of compliance with quarantine. “We would be providing an enormous amount of data for their college coaches or for MLB scouts. If we find out a guy broke quarantine to go and have a lake day with some girls, that’s something that would be included when we talk to those coaches and scouts. They’d be jeopardizing their own futures in baseball as well as their own health and their teammates.”
And Acker has been fielding calls from college baseball coaches who have heard of this potential mini-league. He’s not worried about finding interested players.
“These guys are hungry for missing baseball and a lot of them have something to prove after missing a season,” Acker said. “This would not be a rec league, especially with the Cape Cod League [not holding a season] and the WCL [not looking likely]. Their coaches want to find them a spot to play. I’ve had St. Mary’s coach, a Team USA pitching coach that reached out and said he’d like to put four players on each team, which is the max. Those are the kind of phone calls I’ve been getting. The interest is real and I think I could fill up teams in a matter of hours.”
Being the only game in town, broadcast-wise, also would give the league attention from networks.
“KING 5 is showing backyard highlights,” Acker said. “We could probably make SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays each night with a bunch of routine groundball double plays.”
Public response through social media has resulted in support for the idea.
“It was an overwhelmingly positive response between both pages,” Acker said. “If fans didn’t want it we wouldn’t pursue it, and the response has been so overwhelming that I felt it was necessary to pursue a little further.”
Some in the community questioned how usage of Civic Field could be balanced between the mini-league and Wilder Baseball Club, the area’s American Legion travel ball team.
Acker believes any such issues could be worked out between the organizations as Wilder waits for Clallam County and other counties in which it typically plays games (such as King, Skagit, Whatcom and others) to reach Phase 4.
“It’s going to be very difficult for Wilder to play games this season and I want the kids to be able to play. Inviting high school seniors is part of that by encouraging community-driven play. When we reach Phase 4, that doesn’t mean that other communities will be at the same stage and will complicate things. We can work out the schedules here, and if that means us having to practice at Volunteer Field or taking batting practice at the cage at my house, we can figure it out.”
Acker also is looking for potential sponsors to assist with the financial side of the operation. Players will be asked to pay a fee, likely in the range of 40 percent of the cost of housing, feeding and supplying them.
To inquire about advertising, email Acker at [email protected].
“I think people want baseball, want to be around each other even in a socially distanced setting and trust that I will do my due diligence. If something goes sideways, I would cut it off quick. I’m not going to be cavalier with anybody’s health. The reality is that you get to a point where you have to make a decision statistically, in baseball and in life, to move forward.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].