Already uncertain times for the West Virginia Power have become even cloudier as the coronavirus pandemic has started to eat into the team’s schedule.
A proposal from Major League Baseball put 42 minor league baseball teams across the country — including three in West Virginia — directly in the crosshairs as part of minor league contraction. The Power, Bluefield Blue Jays and Princeton Rays are on that list.
The fight between MLB and minor league baseball is in United States Congress now, but with no deal beyond the 2020 season, nothing is for certain for the Power and the other 41 teams on the potential cut list.
And now, like nearly every other business in the United States, uncertainty is abound in terms of how to stay afloat.
Power general manager Jeremy Taylor cautioned that he could discuss minor league contraction for several hours. Now, he has even more to worry about.
“We were already dealing with that for the last four months and then this hits,” Taylor said.
Taylor believes that the shutdown could ultimately be a good thing for the minor league teams fighting to remain affiliated with their parent clubs.
“Truthfully, I think it could be a good thing for the 42 teams, because I feel like we’ll get some moral support that helps with this thing,” Taylor said. “Maybe it’s one of those things where we’ll all be so glad to be back they’d feel guilty to put everybody through that after all this.”
And while the question of the Power’s continued existence lingers on the horizon, there are a ton of hurdles to clear for the time being.
From paying its staff, to how to handle season ticket holders, to figuring out how to pay league dues and city fees for the lease on Appalachian Power Park, every single aspect of running a minor league club has become a fluid situation. And with no date for return set, Taylor is faced with a myriad of questions for which there are currently no answers.
“Nobody can tell us a date or anything of that nature — they can’t say if they’re looking at this state for this date or that state for that date or that this could be the possible time,” Taylor said. “I can’t tell anybody anything because I don’t know anything.”
What is known is that a scheduled game between West Virginia and Marshall, a big money-maker for the park and a boost to the local economy, is off. The high school baseball showcase, an annual three-day event at Appalachian Power Park featuring games between area prep teams, has also been canceled, and the season-ending state tournament is also very much in question. The Power’s regular-season schedule was set to start on Friday and, obviously, that has been postponed indefinitely as well.
The club will file for a small-business loan under the economic rescue package that passed through Congress in March. That should help pay a staff that consists of 10 full-time employees, but for the club’s eight interns, there is concern.
“They get a monthly stipend and then they’re paid hourly during the season,” Taylor said. “But you know, all these kids move here from Nebraska or California or whatever and they have leases like anyone else. You can’t say, ‘Go get a second job for now,’ because there are none. It’s one of those things. Luckily, we haven’t had to lay anyone off and I don’t think that’s going to happen as long as we get that loan.”
Interns and even players could face further challenges in terms of living once — and if — the season does get underway. As Taylor pointed out, finding a six-month lease is difficult enough; trying to find one that is three or four months would be even harder.
Then there are sponsors, partners and suite-holders. Often, companies sign up for multi-year commitments, but with no guarantee of a future beyond this season, it’s a tougher sell than usual.
If the schedule of April and May games is nixed — which at this point is a distinct possibility — that marks 20 percent of the season that will have been lost. The vast majority of season-ticket holders have purchased tickets before the season and, at some point, refunds and discounts become a necessity.
Taylor said that is a talking point among all clubs and that a general strategy across the board will likely come when a date for return is known.
“We had to fill out a survey on how we think to best handle this as a 160-team conglomerate,” Taylor explained. “It’s not going to be this team doing it this way and that team doing it that way. We haven’t finalized anything yet, we’re waiting to see how everyone else is handling it.”
“Hopefully, there is a 2021 season for us to credit for.”
Without a guarantee of a next season, the club can’t offer tickets to next year’s games as compensation, further handcuffing the club.
While current estimates point to a possible return in late May or early June, Taylor warns a cancellation of the whole season wouldn’t just bankrupt minor league teams, but several major league clubs as well.
Assuming that doesn’t happen, when opening day does come around, Taylor expects one of the club’s biggest days in franchise history. Whether that history will continue for years to come remains to be seen, coronavirus or not.
“I think it would be similar to the derecho where everybody is going to want to do something,” Taylor said. “We were on day six of eight where electricity was out for everybody and it was still 95 degrees. We were on the road and we came back and opened and it was one of our highest attended games ever. I think this will be a lot like that.”