‘It is a gut punch’: Kane County Cougars general manager Curtis Haug reacts to Minor League Baseball canceling the 2020 season.
When the entire country came to a screeching halt in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kane County Cougars general manager Curtis Haug never thought Tuesday’s announcement would ever happen.
Minor League Baseball officially canceled the 2020 season.
“Everybody thought it would be a couple weeks,” Haug said. “Maybe we’d start Memorial Day. Then we got into June and half of our season is over by then.
“Then you see what Major League Baseball is doing, struggling to get their season off the ground. Once it was mid-June, it was when, not if.”
The Cougars are one of 160 affiliated minor league teams that will go without playing this season. It’s the first time there won’t be a season since the minor league system was created in 1901.
“It is a gut punch,” Haug said. “Who would have ever thought there would be no minor league baseball? We’re in our 30th anniversary season. We were all fired up.
“For 30 years, there has always been Cougars baseball to entertain the fans across Chicagoland.”
MiLB commissioner Pat O’Conner also was holding out hope for a season.
O’Conner began to see the writing on the wall, however, with spikes of coronavirus cases in Arizona, Florida and Texas. All three of those states have a large minor league presence.
“In the last 10 days, it came into focus for me,” O’Conner said in a Tuesday press conference. “From our standpoint, we could see the real hotbeds that cooled off had started to reverse.
“It became clear we could not overcome the justified governmental protocols, let alone the protocols to get players into and out of stadiums, onto buses. It was an insurmountable list of challenges. The clock just ran out.”
The Minor League Baseball landscape was already set to radically change in 2021 as MiLB and MLB work on a new agreement. The current agreement expires Sept. 30.
The pandemic has added a new wrinkle.
There already was a plan to cut more than 40 minor league teams. Now, O’Conner suggested more than half of the 160 teams will need help from the U.S. government to stay afloat after a lost season.
“We are in dire straits,” O’Conner said. “I still have grave concerns.
“Losing 2020 with an uncertain future, I could see this lingering for 2022, 2023 easily. In some cases, possibly a little longer.”
The Cougars, for example, will go nearly 19 months without a game. Haug estimated 97 percent of the team’s revenue comes from live baseball.
“What business can recover from that?” Haug said. “First it was, ‘Is there going to be a season?’ Then there was talk of contraction down to 120 teams.
“At that point, who will we be affiliated with? What does the schedule look like? The Midwest League is going to change significantly.”
The news affects tens of thousands of people. From players losing a full year of development to front office staffs to seasonal employees and the economies for many cities, Tuesday’s announcement sent shock waves through the industry.