Minor League Baseball season canceled for 2020; Pioneer League looks forward

Minor League Baseball season canceled for 2020; Pioneer League looks forward

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Mustangs vs. Osprey

Billings Mustangs' Garrett Wolforth gets a hug from teammate Patrick Raby (59) after Wolforth drove in the winning run against Missoula on Sept. 4, 2019.

BILLINGS — Minor League Baseball made official on Tuesday what most expected all along — that there will not be a 2020 season.

The minor league campaign had previously been on hold nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Major League Baseball has informed its MiLB affiliates that it would not provide players to fill their rosters for the remainder of the year.

The announcement was made by Minor League Baseball on its official website and via social media. The news was initially reported by both The Athletic and Baseball America.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” MiLB president Pat O’Conner wrote in a statement.

“While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”

The Major League Baseball season has yet to start due to COVID-19, but MLB is expected to begin an abbreviated 2020 schedule July 23-24, with players reporting for workouts on Wednesday for the first time since spring training was shut down in March.

The Rookie Advanced Pioneer League, which includes the Billings Mustangs, Great Falls Voyagers and Missoula PaddleHeads, was scheduled to open its season on June 19. This will mark the first time the league, which was founded in 1939, won't play a baseball season since shutting down for three years during World War II (1943-45).

Team executives in Billings, Great Falls and Missoula had previously expressed doubts about the 2020 season. Pioneer League president Jim McCurdy said the league, like all others across the MiLB system, will look forward.

“We are all aware of the pandemic and its impact on all of our normal activities and businesses, including professional sports,” McCurdy told 406mtsports.com. “We’re not overly surprised.

“Nevertheless it’s not what we had in mind, of course, when we started the year. But it’s something that everyone is facing. We will stand with it and bear it and get through it and try to continue toward our normal activities.”

The league also faces uncertainty for the 2021 season due to the potential loss of their player development affiliations with MLB.

Major League Baseball has been in negotiations with MiLB on a new Professional Baseball Agreement, which expires in September. It’s been widely reported that MLB’s goal is to shrink the minor league system by more than 40 teams, including all eight teams in the Pioneer League.

No matter what happens, McCurdy said the Pioneer League is planning to play baseball in 2021, echoing statements by Billings owner Dave Heller and Missoula owner Peter Davis.

“We hope that the outcome will be satisfactory for everyone, and for that matter the league is ready and able to play whenever we’re allowed to and we can get players from Major League Baseball,” McCurdy said.

“If there is some type of alternate arrangement, we will look forward to providing continued Pioneer League play. We don’t at this point in time know what it will look like. It could be the same as it is now or anything in between.”

“We really appreciate the support shown by our communities and we’re all together in this. We’ll come out of it with something that I hope satisfies everyone and can continue to provide baseball games and all the surrounding activities that go with it” in 2021, he said.

Email Greg Rachac at Greg.Rachac@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @gregrachac

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