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Western Canadian Baseball League announces potential schedule changes

Concerns over COVID-19 see Miller Express season potentially in jeopardy, with early June deadline for cancellation of campaign

The 2019 edition of the Moose Jaw Miller Express take the third base baseline for the national anthem to open the new Western Canadian Major Baseball League season.

With hockey, basketball and every spring and winter sport on hiatus due to the COVID-19 outbreak, eyes are now turning to the near future.

As in where things will be right around the time summer sports are set to take centre stage.

That includes baseball, with the Western Canadian Baseball League announcing Sunday that plans were in place not only with a deadline for a full season to be played, but potential shorter schedules if the pandemic hasn't cleared in time for the late-May Opening Day.

The Moose Jaw Miller Express are slated to kick off the season on Wednesday, May 27 when they host the Swift Current 57's at Ross Wells Park.

The current plan sees a deadline of May 2 for the full 2020 season to take place. Provisions are also in place for a start date near Father's Day (June 21) or Canada Day if possible, but if by early June health and travel restrictions haven't been lifted, the season would likely be cancelled.

Given how things have progressed with COVID-19, the announcement came as little surprise to Miller Express general manager Cory Olafson.

“You look at the professional leagues and they aren't at the mercy of an end date,” Olafson explained.“We have an end date we have to keep in mind, and that's the start of the U.S. collegiate school year. So we have a window, but the more it starts to close, the more it's going to be difficult to get in any kind of season.

“We're just a small fish in a big pond right now, we obviously can't do anything until restrictions on travel have been lifted, and the quarantine thing, we're in a wait-and-see holding pattern as everyone else.”

The press release also contained a dire warning about franchises potentially needing to take emergency leaves-of-absence if the situation doesn't improve soon. Fortunately for the Miller Express, they aren't one of those teams. But the situation isn't going to be a positive one if things are still in purgatory when preparations for the campaign would begin in earnest.

“We have a roster that's really, really close to being full, we could start the regular season tomorrow and we'll have enough guys to play. So that's not an issue,” Olafson said. “But I'm a businessman and I'm in the business community a lot, and the thing that probably scares me the most if we have any season at all is picking up a phone and calling these businesses that might not know if they can keep the power on next month. It's going to be really tough, and uncharted waters we're entering.... we know that without our sponsors, we're sunk. It's well over half our budget and it's probably between 60 and 70 per cent of our budget.”

One thing that isn't a concern what kind of response the Miller Express sponsors will have once the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

“We have some wonderful sponsors who, if we can pull this out of the fire, they're going to want to get people out of the house and come to the ballpark,” Olafson said. “By then everyone is going to be cooped up for quite awhile and getting out will be a treat. “Maybe it could be perfect storm for us that way, too. Maybe people will say 'hey, let's go to the ballpark, let's do something, let's go feel alive today'.”

The league expects to release a new update on or around April 20.

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