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SPORTS: Leafs hopeful for baseball this summer (May 2020)

June 15th, 2020 · No Comments

Shortened season possible if social restrictions lifted and parks reopen by July

An empty ballpark makes a sombre image as city parks remain closed during the pandemic.

By R.S. Konjek 

The ballpark is quiet.

The grass is unkempt, drifting litter has collected around the backstop, and a tarp covering the pitcher’s mound has been flipped to one side by wind. No one is there to readjust it.

The COVID-19 outbreak has halted most public activities and all organized sports, including the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball season.

Christie Pits Park, where the team should be gathering for pre-season practices, was closed by the city in early April. The sight of fielders chasing fly balls has been replaced by the sight of uniformed police officers shooing park visitors away.

At the same time, the Intercounty Baseball League issued a statement acknowledging that a traditional baseball season in 2020 would not be possible because of the pandemic.  In short order, three of the league’s ball clubs – Barrie, Brantford and Kitchener – announced they would suspend all operations for 2020.

The Leafs remain hopeful that a shortened season might still be possible this summer if physical distancing restrictions are lifted and parks re-open by July.  Leafs player-manager Damon Topolie envisions a scenario where a condensed season could be played that month, with two play-off rounds in August to decide the league championship.The economic impact of a potentially lost season is not as hard on the Leafs, whose games are free to the public, as it is on other clubs who rely on ticket sales.

“We are not a gate-driven revenue-based team,” says Topolie. “We rely on sponsorships to help support the team. The club has made it for 51 years and it will be able to sustain itself.”

Every May, the Leafs host a forum and reception featuring Major League Baseball greats from the past. The event has been rescheduled to October.  The Leafs are also moving ahead with the publication of their annual team magazine. 

For now, Topolie has instructed his players to stay at home as much as possible and maintain their fitness. 

A final decision on whether the league will attempt a modified season in 2020 is expected in late May or early June.

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