LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two stadiums, less than a mile apart but facing a far different set of summer plans, give a graphic depiction of the havoc wreaked on local sports by COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Louisville City Football Club learned that it will open its new $65 million Lynn Family Stadium on July 12, with fans in attendance, albeit at 50% capacity. Down the road, Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats and the venue where LouCity spent the first five seasons of its existence, learned that it would remain dark — at least for baseball — for the remainder of the year.
Minor League Baseball will not happen in 2020, the result of expanded Major League rosters, a changing view of how the big leagues want to develop prospects and, primarily, the disruption still being caused around the nation by COVID-19.
In Butchertown, the mood was jubilant. It won’t be the party they envisioned for the opening of the new soccer stadium, but it will be a happening and, masks and all, it will be a party. The franchise deserves it.
The professional model of soccer still allows for top-notch players to populate the United Soccer League, as evidenced by LouCity wins over Major League Soccer opponents in recent seasons. Given the opportunity provided its European counterparts by relegation, LouCity no doubt already would’ve crashed the MLS party.
Nonetheless, it has been a major draw, has a growing fan base and, with a new facility, figures to become a showpiece of the league it has won twice in the past three years.
When LouCity opens the season against Pittsburgh Riverhounds at 5 p.m. July 12, ESPN2 will broadcast the event.
“We wish we could pack the stands with 15,000, but those who can’t watch in person will be treated to a great broadcast,” Estes said. “... We are ecstatic to finally open Lynn Family Stadium. So much time, effort and support has gone into making this idea of professional soccer a reality in Louisville, and we look forward to celebrating our city.”
It'll be a while before they are celebrating at Louisville Slugger Field. Minor League Baseball made official what had been speculated for weeks when it sent out a 5 p.m. news release confirming that the big leagues would not supply players for its minor league affiliates in 2020.
"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," Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O'Conner said. "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."
Minor League Baseball is two things, of course. It provides a training ground for big-leaguers, yes, but it provides summer sports entertainment for families with an affordable price tag. It’s absence will be a loss, especially with college baseball already scuttled.
Don’t expect the stadium to remain completely idle. A week or so ago, Bats Executive Vice President Greg Galiette told WDRB’s Rick Bozich that the club was looking to make the facility available for some youth leagues, had thought about socially distant movie nights and would perhaps plan some fireworks shows. They’ll get creative. That’s the DNA of minor league franchises.
The Bats have been operating with a half-dozen employees. You can’t cut expenses much more than that. But to have no main revenue stream for 18 months, how many businesses can navigate that? The Bats’ parent organization, the Cincinnati Reds, have said they will pay their minor league players through Sept. 7, among the most generous commitments in the game.
Baseball’s inability to get its primarily league up and running, let alone its minor leagues, leaves the sport less stable as it moves forward into a world that is changed for everyone. There’s no way around that. If you’re the Bats, perhaps the best you can hope for is that the hunger for that game experience, a summer night, the crack of the bat, the smell of the hot dogs, the sights and sounds of the park, will grow in the game’s absence.
I can’t imagine it not growing.
Soccer, less burdened by complicated bargaining agreements and more agile in its ability to adjust plans on the fly, has flanked America’s pastime in this test.
Louisville is extraordinarily lucky to have both of these franchises, both embraced by the city and both providing summer memories for fans of all ages.
It’s just a different story for the two this summer. One is getting ready to celebrate. One is thinking about how it navigates a another eight months no business.
So close together, but so far away.
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