POCATELLO — The weather is heating up, but the boys of summer are still stuck in limbo.
The front office of the Gate City Grays was ramping up its preseason preparations when the coronavirus pandemic hit, bringing everything to a screeching halt.
Now, the Grays and the North Utah League — much like other sports leagues across the country — are dealing with unprecedented uncertainty.
Despite not having any idea if the coronavirus will subside enough to have games this summer, they’re trying to stay as ready as possible in case it does.
“We’re hoping for a summer season, no doubt about it,” Grays co-owner Terry Fredrickson said. “We are going to be as ready as we can possibly be, so that if we do have a start date, we can go.”
Fredrickson and his wife and co-owner, Erica Fredrickson, met with the team’s coaching staff last week to discuss contingency plans.
They’re scheduled to have a remote meeting later this week with the rest of the NUL leadership.
The Grays typically begin playing in mid-May, a date that might be impossible to hit this year even in a best-case scenario.
If the season opener gets pushed back into June, the NUL would likely try playing a shorter, but still recognizable, schedule. If it goes later than that, other options could be on the table, including tournament-style formats.
”For me, as much as I love the game, it would be an absolute treat even if I got to see a big tournament,” Terry Fredrickson said. “If we could get enough guys together to play a big tournament, even if it’s at the end of the year. And for the 2020 season, have the COVID-19 asterisk mark, not too many guys got a game but we still got a little bit of baseball in.”
If the league does play games in 2020, social distancing rules might also be put in place, including having games with no fans.
If that happens, Fredrickson said that the Grays, along with other NUL teams, are exploring options to stream games so that fans can watch at home.
”We’re going to do everything we can to get that online so that people can still have their baseball,” Fredrickson said. “I think that’s only fair to the community and to our fans.”
Idaho Gov. Brad Little has issued a stay-at-home order that would need to be lifted before games could even be considered. That order is currently set to expire Wednesday, but Little has schedule a press conference for Wednesday morning at which he’s widely expected to extend it.
Utah, where every other team in the NUL is located, has issued a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” directive through May 1, which is not as restrictive as Idaho’s but still could pose obstacles.
Aside from that, the league is likely to rely on indicators from across the sports world to determine whether it’s safe enough for games to be played.
”We talked about what would be an indicator,” Fredrickson said. “I think we’re really going to follow Major League Baseball. If they come out next week and say, hey, we’re starting on May blank, that will kind of be our tentative start date, if Idaho’s OK with that.”
When the coronavirus hit, the Grays were in the process of evaluating prospective players from colleges across the region, but hadn’t reached out to many.
Now, in April, they’re at the point when they would generally be extending offers, signing contracts and locking down lineup spots.
That hasn’t happened, but Fredrickson said that the team has reached out to more players, sending them workouts to stay in shape and reminding them that things could come together very quickly if there’s good news on the public health front.
”It stinks, because we’re not recruiting, we’re not seeing any guys playing, we’re not seeing any guys in college,” Fredrickson said. “It really has been rough. ... We’ve never had to face anything like this before, a short, get-it-all-together type deal. If there’s one thing I really believe, you get the right group of guys, you get the right chemistry together, things can click pretty quick. Hopefully this subsides, hopefully this goes away, and even if we have a three-day tryout, just to get an idea of what we’re looking at, just extend it out there to anybody and everybody, see if we can’t pick up a quick team.”
One thing to watch is that the quality of play might suffer a little bit as players come in rusty without the benefit of a spring season.
Fredrickson isn’t sure what the financial impact of a shortened or canceled season would be, but said that “we’ll figure it out. We always do.”
More than that, he’s focused on getting some type of baseball out on the field this summer at Halliwell Park.
”Let’s be honest, baseball can heal a community,” Fredrickson said. “After what we’ve been through, I really believe it can be medicine for the community. I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve got prayer flags, I’ve got a Buddhist statue, I’m going to fast tomorrow. I’m trying to invoke every religion I can think of that we get a season in this year, just for the sake of baseball.”