Light rain falls Tuesday at an empty Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Minor League Baseball announced earlier in the day that the 2020 season will be canceled. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

For the first time since the Sea Dogs inaugural season in 1994, there will be no professional baseball in Portland this year.

The team’s schedule, already delayed three months by the coronavirus pandemic, came to a premature end Tuesday when Minor League Baseball announced the cancellation of the 2020 season for all teams across North America. The Sea Dogs were scheduled to play through Labor Day weekend.

“We were unable to find a path that allowed us to play games,” said Pat O’Conner, Minor League Baseball’s president and CEO, in a conference call.

The cancellation, while harsh for fans and employees of the Sea Dogs, had been speculated for months.

“It’s not a surprise,” said Sea Dogs President and General Manager Geoff Iacuessa. “We all had a pretty good idea that the chances of a season weren’t great as time was passing by.

“It’s the right decision, from a health and safety standpoint.”

According to the minor leagues’ press release, the reason for the cancellation was because Major League Baseball organizations “will not be providing its affiliated minor league teams with players for the 2020 season.” But later, O’Conner said he was not blaming MLB.

“It wasn’t an acrimonious decision,” O’Conner said. “This has been months in coming. It’s an epiphany of the realization where we are. It’s the right thing to go and, from a practical sense, it’s the only thing to do.

“The decision was not that difficult. It was hard to accept.”

Major League Baseball resumes training this week, with a shortened 60-game schedule to begin July 23 – and without fans in the ballparks. MLB will still receive revenue through television contracts – something the minor leagues do not have. MLB owners estimated that they will lose 40 percent of their revenue without fans. O’Conner estimated that minor league teams would lose “85 to 90 percent” of revenue without crowds.

“Our model is based on fans in the stands,” O’Conner said. “We had a conversation – can we play without fans? That was one of the shortest conversations.”

Furthering the end of the minor leagues was MLB’s establishment of 60-man “player pools” for each team, divided into a 30-man playing roster and a 30-man reserve unit which will train at a nearby minor league facility. Those reserve units were comprised mostly from Triple-A teams, and some from Double-A, which the Sea Dogs compete in.

The Sea Dogs are a minor league affiliate of the the Boston Red Sox. Boston’s reserve unit is scheduled to work out at McCoy Stadium, site of its Triple-A team in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

As for Hadlock Field, there will be no professional baseball.

“I’m very disappointed. But considering (the virus outbreak) is a worldwide event, we have to do what’s safe,” said Rod MacPhie, who works as an ambassador for the Sea Dogs, welcoming fans to Hadlock. This “leaves such a void.

“It’s our happy place every summer. We miss it so much … fireworks on the Fourth of July. All the traditional events. Field of Dreams. It’s part of our world in the summertime. I’m talking as an employee and as a fan.”

MacPhie, and the other 214 game-day employees for the Sea Dogs, are still getting paid. The franchise announced this spring that its employees will be compensated – based on last year’s pay – even if no games were to be played.

O’Conner said half of the 160 minor league teams are in financial trouble because of the pandemic, but the Sea Dogs are in solid shape, according to Bill Burke, chairman of the team’s ownership.

“Yes, this has been really hard on everyone in baseball, but the Sea Dogs will survive and be back next year,” Burke said. “Today’s announcement from (Minor League Baseball) was disappointing but not unexpected and, all the way back in March, we began considering scenarios in which we might not play games – or play games with no fans (and therefore, no revenues).”

The Sea Dogs had already announced a ticket refund procedure on their website, seadogs.com. Iacuessa said he has been in communication with season ticket holders about the option of a refund or a credit for next season.

The Red Sox have many other minor leaguers – those not in the major league player pool – who have no games to play and no organized workouts this summer.

“That’s rough,” said Sea Dogs Manager Joe Oliver. Players “are losing that opportunity of working on something that’s probably imperative to their development.

“We’re doing the best we can and trying to monitor what they’re working on at home. We do the best we can with Zoom and conversations, but it’s really tough when you can’t have those hands-on interactions with the players.”

The Red Sox, along with many other organizations, already committed to paying their minor leaguers $400 a week through the end of the season.

With no Sea Dogs coming to Portland this year, people like Matt Rogers have to adjust their summer schedules and deal with an empty room. Rogers and friends have occupied a skybox at Hadlock Field since 1994, and Rogers’ family has housed players for the past 12 years as a host family.

“We stay in touch with a lot of them,” said Rogers, of Falmouth. “I always look forward to early April, getting extra family members.”

While Rogers is a veteran fan of Sea Dogs games, Emma Tiedemann was looking forward to her first one. Tiedemann was hired in March as the team’s new radio broadcaster. The finality of Tuesday’s announcement was “a gut-punch,” she said.

“It was harder than I expected, knowing full well that this day was coming. I haven’t come to grips with not having a baseball game to go to – to walk into park … the atmosphere … all those pieces that make up the perfect summer night. Losing all that is just unreal.”

Meanwhile, the Sea Dogs have used Hadlock Field in other ways, including a takeout service for its concession food, as well as a “target” golf event July 9-12 that sold out within 24 hours. Iacuessa said other events are being planned.

“Then we will turn the page to 2021,” Iacuessa said.

That will not be the case for at least one other Red Sox minor league affiliate. While Pawtucket is hosting the major league reserves this summer, the Triple-A team is scheduled to move to Worcester, Massachusetts next season.

Also, the Red Sox short-season team in Lowell, Massachusetts, may be gone. MLB had previously announced plans to cut 25 percent of its minor league teams, including most short-season teams like Lowell. On Tuesday, O’Conner said there have been no recent negotiations with MLB, adding that there are bigger problems than a list of teams potentially on the chopping block.

“This threat from the coronavirus transcends any list,” he said. “We are in dire straits.”


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