IBL 2020 Season All But Lost, Commissioner Says

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

Today, the Intercounty Baseball League (est. 1919) announced it will not hold opening day at least until July 1, and that it will do so without the six-time defending champion Barrie Baycats, Brantford Red Sox and Kitchener Panthers, all of whom decided not to play during this time of uncertainty.

In reality, the IBL will most likely wipe out the entire 2020 season unless a miracle occurs, according to league commissioner John Kastner.

This is the time we live in: a time of social distancing, a time of prayer and a reset for a whole new world with the coronavirus pandemic gripping us tighter than any pitcher has gripped a baseball.

In times of need, baseball fans have always been able to turn to their favourite pastime. But other than televised reruns and social media chatter, there is no baseball to soothe the soul.

The IBL is a family like no other in Ontario. I’ve been a part of that family for most of my life, most notably as founder of the league’s media relations office and as a former pitcher and coach with the London Majors. Labatt Park has been my second home. But not this year.

I can’t help but think of the line spoken by James Earl Jones’ character, Terence Mann, in the movie, Field Of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America is ruled by it like an army of steam rollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and raised again. But baseball has marked the time.”

There are very few records and statistics to show from the IBL’s World War II era 1942-45. Some of the league’s entries fielded a team, others didn’t, and many combined the rosters of junior and senior teams in order to fill out a lineup during four modified seasons. The league marched on, and has been an uninterrupted constant for more than a century.

But today, the IBL issued this statement:

Labatt Park

COVID-19 has had an incredible impact on every aspect of society and sports is no exception and after a century of continuous operation, The IBL and all its teams are resigned to the fact that a traditional IBL season in 2020 is not possible. In fact, several of the municipalities where The IBL has teams have already stated that those ball parks will be off limits until at least Canada Day. The IBL is still hopeful that the pandemic is brought under control in the coming months and that some sort of modified IBL season is possible. What that season might look like is pure conjecture at this point. We do know there is no hope for a full season and playoffs like The IBL and its fans have experienced for 101 straight summers. We also know that some teams have already made the tough decision that they will not be playing this year. All teams, including those that are still holding out hope for some baseball this year, realize that the prospects of a season of any kind seems unlikely and would only move forward with the full blessing of the province, medical officers of health and our municipalities. We realize a lot of good things would have to happen for us to have some baseball this year including the absolute safety of our players, umpires, volunteers and fans. This is consistent with Baseball Ontario’s current direction and hope for a season in 2020. At this point, The IBL can say in confidence that we will not have baseball of any kind before July 1; that the majority of teams, while realizing IBL baseball this summer may seem unlikely, are hopeful of playing a modified season; and that some teams have already resigned themselves that they will not operate in 2020. Finally, to our fans, players, umpires, sponsors, volunteers and all the people past and present who have a relationship with The IBL – stay in, stay healthy, stay safe and hopefully, we see you all at the ball park as soon as this is over and it is safe to do so.

Of course, any IBL baseball in 2020 would be played only with full approval from government and medical officials. One plan on the table calls for a 20-game schedule for the five clubs – London Majors, Guelph Royals, Hamilton Cardinals, Toronto Maple Leafs and Welland Jackfish – followed by a sudden-death quarter-final game and a best-of-five championship for the Jack and Lynne Dominico Cup.

Then there’s the issue of import players – each team is permitted to add four to their roster. That may change, too.

The Baycats are expected to make a formal announcement on Thursday. Brantford released this statement today:

Update April 9: The Kitchener Panthers and Barrie Baycats released this news this morning:

Today, it is with deep regret that the Board of Directors of the Barrie Baycats Baseball Club announce that we will not be fielding a team for the upcoming 2020 season. These are extremely challenging times for our families and all of society. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely caught all of us off guard. This situation is bigger than baseball and that is the reason we must make responsible decisions. “Nothing is more important to the Baycats than the health and safety of our players, volunteers, fans, and officials,” stated Baycats President David Mills. “At this time there exists too much risk and uncertainty to move forward in good conscience this season,” commented Mills. “During these last couple of weeks, we have had a valuable dialogue with the Intercounty Baseball League. Presently, two other IBL teams (Kitchener and Brantford) have opted out of the 2020 season, and the remaining teams and their executives are considering their plans for the season that could potentially begin on July 1. “Without any ability to predict as to when it will be safe and responsible to return to play, our Board of Directors unanimously came to this decision to withdraw from the IBL 2020 season. “All of us play a part battling this virus so that we may be in a position to enjoy more Baycats baseball in the future. The Baycats, a not-for-profit organization, has established itself with a strong community presence. It would be irresponsible of us as Directors and the custodians of this organization, its reputation, and its very future in this community, to risk all of our health and welfare by participating this season. “By putting the foot on the brakes for 2020, we have another year to regroup, solidify our sponsors, players, and staffing and come out of the gate in 2021 in the same strong position we’ve been in for the last 20 years. “Thank you for supporting Baycats Baseball and trust you understand our decision. We will continue to provide information on the team through social media and our website.”

From the Panthers:

It is with deep regret that the Board of Directors of Kitchener Senior Panthers Baseball Inc. announce that we will not be fielding a team in the summer of 2020. The Directors unanimously came to this decision in recent weeks; a decision that was not made lightly and at odds with many of the other IBL teams. As the current COVID- 19 situation is not improving and the near term (summer) looks tenuous at best, we would potentially be putting our team members, players, coaches and volunteers at risk. Just as important, we would be putting our fans at risk. Baseball is not more important than this. As is the case across our Community and the Nation, local businesses that have supported the Panthers for years and years and their employees are hurting, badly in many cases. For us to expect the same in support in 2020 is unfair to them and to the ball club. Even with a reduced schedule, we would incur many of the same expenses. Coupled with reduced revenue, the ball club would suffer irreparable financial harm. To repeat, it is with heavy hearts that we take this step. But this is an extraordinary and unique event in our century of play. We made this decision because we want to be here next year and thereafter. The Kitchener Panthers is a Community institution and a small business. It would be irresponsible of us as Directors and custodians of this institution, its reputation, and its very future in this Community, to risk it all by playing in 2020. Thank you for supporting Panthers Baseball!

“We had to find a strategy that worked for everybody,” Kastner explained of the new game plan. “Ideally, we wanted all eight teams to wait and see. But the rationale was excellent for the teams who had particular circumstances and said, ‘No, I don’t think we can (play).’ And we’ve left the door open for the three teams who said no.

IBL Commissioner John Kastner

“We completely respect their decision,” said Kastner, “and I’ve personally said, I will leave the door open in the event that there is a miraculous turnaround, and if what we come up with is something they are interested in.”

Given the fact our world seems to change by the minute, there is a chance that any of the five teams who are in could change their minds.

Today, Majors co-owner and field boss Roop Chanderdat said he didn’t want to be “the one to stop the league after 101 years. If we get necessary clearance from everyone, we will be able to give something back to the people – just an outing to come watch a game.”

“What role can the IBL play in the mental health of these communities where people are shut in?” said Kastner. “This is all in the case that it would be 100 per cent, unquestionably safe. How important would it be for our fan base to be able to go to the ballpark? How bad would it be if everyone is ready to go out, but can’t go to the ballpark? We wouldn’t have any baseball for them.”

But for now, its eight weeks of fun and done, Kastner said.

“That’s the phrase being bantered around,” he said. “I was in on the Baseball Ontario town hall meeting and they also talked about July 1. And the term they kept using was, ‘Eight weeks of fun and done.’ I’ve adopted it for our league, too. There are nine weekends from July 1 to August 31. So if we play eight weeks, and then playoffs, then we’ll be done about Labour Day.

“When you watch the federal and provincial government announcements, and listen to other sports leagues, everyone in Canada is looking towards Canada Day. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of data to support that, but it’s a date that’s meaningful to Canadians.”

However, Kastner reiterated, the season is most likely lost for this year.

Sean Reilly. Photo: Guelph Royals/Gar Fitzgerald.

“I appreciate it’s probably all for not. But we have a contingency should all things turn around. And it’s all in pencil. It might get changed where we can’t go until August, and we might say, let’s have a weekend tournament and put something in the books that we’ve had a season. That would be at the extreme end.”

No one is more passionate about the IBL than Guelph Royals slugger Sean Reilly. The league’s biggest star and all-time leader in hits, home runs and RBIs said in an emotional Facebook posting that he hopes the integrity of the league remains intact. He said, “You can’t hand out the Dominico Trophy under these conditions or keep any sort of stats. I take pride in this league and what it represents. A watered-down version of what has been a big part of my life isn’t worth celebrating, in my eyes.”

Reilly is closing in on hit No. 1,000. He has 965 career hits, but worries now that this season – which he had planned would be his last – may see him come up short of 1,000 hits lifetime. But of course, Reilly – a firefighter – knows we are all battling for a much larger cause now.

“I don’t disagree with any of that,” said Kastner of Reilly’s integrity hopes. “We’ve certainly thought about putting an asterisk next to the season. And one of the defining points is, at what point is it not in keeping with the heart and tradition of the Intercounty Baseball League? At what point is it more important to not have a season that is not representative of the last century? If it gets too goofy, I suspect we’ll decide not to play.”

General manager of the Stratford Perth Museum and holder of a university degree in History, Kastner said, “This is a time that is totally unique to our lifetime. This is unique in our lifetime, my parents’ lifetime and quite possibly my grandparents’ lifetime.”

IBL fans have already united via social media today to show their love for the 101-year-old league. Let’s hope we all unite at the ballpark later this summer to enjoy our favourite pastime.

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Award-winning journalist Jeffrey Reed has written about the Intercounty Baseball League for more than 40 years. He founded the IBL media relations office in 1994, and for two seasons pitched and coached with the London Majors. Reach him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office https://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com. Sports journalist since 1980.

One Response to “IBL 2020 Season All But Lost, Commissioner Says”

  1. Joe Serratore says:

    Really. How many people will touch baseballs. Who is going to rub up the balls. Lives are more important than baseball. This will not be 100 percent clear by July 1. Come on John make the right decision now. There might not be a Labatt park to play in. Just my opinion. Joe Ump