Blue Crabs fans are expected to be able to attend games at the team’s ballpark in Charles County, a team official said, though it will operate at a limited capacity.
The ability to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus through safety measures in Maryland helped put the Blue Crabs in position to plan on a season.
“We just see the direction that Maryland is going in terms of the coronavirus cases, and we’ve gotten the go-ahead from our local officials to be able to play at 25 percent capacity in the stadium,” Andrew Bandstra, the Blue Crabs’ broadcaster and media relations manager, said in a phone interview.
The independent league hoped all eight of its teams would participate in an adjusted 2020 schedule but will now let each team figure out how to go forward with its season. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, “several member clubs have not gained necessary approval from governmental and health officials to open their ballparks to a capacity level sufficient for participation,” the league said in a news release.
The Blue Crabs, Rockers and Ducks are expected to compete against three other independent teams for a six-team league in 2020, Atlantic League President Rick White told The Post in a phone interview Saturday. An official announcement is expected in the coming days.
“We were conferring virtually every day, and in the latest conference with our clubs, it became clear that there was just not enough certainty for us to receive state approval, specifically state approval, to open our ballparks to at least 25 percent of capacity in time to have a meaningful schedule,” White said.
If the scheduling process is finalized, fans attending Blue Crabs games this summer at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf can expect to follow physical distancing protocols.
The team is expected to use digital ticketing to avoid fan contact with ticket takers. Families will be allowed to sit together, but fans not seated together will be at least six feet apart in every direction. Empty seats will be zip-tied shut to ensure spacing protocols aren’t violated.
If the 70-game season does proceed, it is not yet clear whether every team’s ballpark will open to fans, White said.
Blue Crabs staff members have returned to work and have their temperatures taken daily. They must wear masks at all times and keep six feet apart. Players will be tested twice a week. A positive test will result in a self-quarantine for the player and a retest of all of his teammates.
With Major League Baseball and the players’ union struggling to begin the 2020 season, the six-team joint venture between the Atlantic League and other clubs could provide a respite for some fans.
“This is just showcasing another really beneficial aspect of independent baseball in the sense that we’re not handcuffed by the MLB,” Bandstra said. “We have the free range to go out and make baseball a thing right now even during a pandemic and do so in a safe way.”
Given the rise in coronavirus cases, specifically in states that have recently opened up, White said the league’s confidence level of pulling off a season is 80 to 85 percent.
“It’s never 100 percent until it’s done,” White said, “but the thing that each of these teams has done is present to municipal, county and state authorities a health and safety plan and a ballpark reopening plan that has been vetted by local and county health authorities and has received their endorsement.”
Based in North Carolina, the Rockers are in an advantageous situation. White said the team could follow local guidelines and host games without fans today.
“We want to do things the right way,” Rockers President Pete Fisch said in a phone interview. “We don’t want to go rogue and just open and then prove a point. We want to work hand-in-hand with our local government and our state to do it the right way. And we honestly feel like, in our park, that we can be an example for other similar-sized facilities on how to open. What we do on the first day is not going to be the same thing we’re doing on the fifth day and the 10th day and the 50th day.”
The Atlantic League — which has six East Coast teams, a league-operated traveling team and one team based in Sugar Land, Tex. — provided updates for what each team will be doing going forward.
The Sugar Land Skeeters will host a four-team league that will play 28 games from July 3 to Aug. 23. Teams will be managed by former major league players, including Roger Clemens, Greg Swindell and Pete Incaviglia. The Lancaster Barnstormers will host an outdoor movie series at their stadium and are in talks to play the York Revolution, which also plans to play movies on its video board and hold outdoor dining events. The Somerset Patriots plan to host local baseball games, drive-in movies, fireworks shows and graduations.
In a sport known for its rigidity, the Atlantic League has been used as a testing ground to experiment with new ideas to advance the game through a three-year rules partnership with MLB. At its All-Star Game last summer, the Atlantic League became the first American baseball league to use an electronic strike zone to call balls and strikes in official games.
Days later, Blue Crabs outfielder Tony Thomas became the first player to “steal” first base. The rule essentially expands the principle of running on a dropped third strike to all counts.