With the season set to begin on May 29, the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League announced on Wednesday that the 2020 season will be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Watertown Rapids would have entered their third season in the league with first-year general manager Nick Czerow and first-year manager John Rizzo.
The decision was made by the PGCBL in conjunction with its naming sponsor Perfect Game USA.
“The primary importance is for the health and safety of all concerned in this geographic area,” Perfect Game founder and president, Jerry Ford said. “As the naming sponsor of the PGCBL, we support Mr. (Robert) Julian’s and the owners’ decision to cancel play for the 2020 season. While disappointed that baseball won’t be played in the PGCBL this summer, we recognize the significant barriers with housing, player travel to Upstate New York and between cities, and other factors the league faces that Perfect Game doesn’t face, as other areas of the country reopen for play later this spring and summer.”
The league had been holding weekly meetings with its member teams and it was on Wednesday that it became clear that a 2020 season would not be feasible.
“We were in the loop the whole time, what it was, was that there were weekly meetings between the owners, some of the GM’s and the Perfect Game League, and we really tried our best and exhausted all options of how to play this season and it wasn’t until today that we finally decided that there wasn’t anything that we can do,” Czerow said in a phone interview. “It’s pretty much been a waiting game until today.”
Given the impact of COVID-19 on the state and the country, cancellation felt like the likely outcome. However, that doesn’t keep Czerow from being disappointed.
“It’s disappointing from a standpoint of just wanting to play this season for the fans, especially with a short baseball season that we’re in, we thought we could be a ray of sunshine for Watertown this summer and hoping that this whole COVID-19 would have blown over by then,” Czerow said. “The most important thing to us is ensuring the safety of our fans and our players who are coming from all over the country and our staff that comes here as well. We felt that with everything going on, we couldn’t financially do that and we couldn’t physically do that between testing and the amount of sanitation, there is no guarantee against something airborne, or something like that.”
New York’s current pause order is not set to expire until May 15, approximately two weeks before the scheduled start to PGCBL season. The PGCBL consists of 12 teams located throughout upstate New York.
“We have engaged in watchful waiting in the hope we could commence play on either May 29 or on a later date, but we are now persuaded that the likelihood and probability of either option is low to non-existent,” PGCBL president Robert Julian stated. “We understand that the issues faced by our state and local governments create unsurmountable hurdles that prevent us from safely playing.”
Rizzo on Wednesday reached out to a few of the players scheduled to travel to Watertown to play for the Rapids.
“We saw this coming but we didn’t want to reach out until it was concrete,” Rizzo said. “Right now I’ve talked to a few players, they expected it, too. I think everyone’s kind of expected it. You have to be honest with them, you let them know what the situation is and you offer to help any way you can so they can still develop this summer.”
Rizzo would have been the Rapids third coach in three seasons following David Anderson in 2018 and Mike Wood in 2019. He understands the carousel that coaching baseball can be. “As far as the future goes, I think this was a great opportunity to learn some new things from the side of being a head coach, especially off the field things,” Rizzo said. “(Returning as head coach) would have to be something we get back to in the future when we know a little bit more, but I would love to come back if that opportunity works on both sides.”
Rizzo, expecting to coach baseball this summer, will have to find work elsewhere for the summer months, something he said has never been a problem in the past.
For Czerow, his summer will go from following the Rapids wins and losses to focusing on the 2021 season.
“It’s really business as usual, in sports your offseason is the busiest time of the year for you and once you get into the season, you’re kind of going through the motions of letting people in the doors and handling operations,” Czerow said. “Some of the stuff I’ll be looking at is how we can improve our concessions for next year, offer some cool options. How can we improve our merchandise, we’re working on creating some cool, innovative packages for fans who come as groups, to do some things on the field during the game or after the game.”
Czerow is excited for what the Rapids could offer in 2021. While 2020 will result in a loss of revenue due to no fan attendance, according to Czerow, the cancellation of the season was financially better for the Rapids than had it been played without fans.
“Playing games without being able to have fans in the facility and having sponsors pay to be on boards with no fans to see them, it’s just financially irresponsible for us to continue like that,” Czerow said.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have great owners who put us in a position to be able to handle something like this,” Czerow said. “We’re looking to go live with ticket sales and sponsorship for 2021 a little bit earlier than we have in the past. So, we’re eyeing late-September, October, in that range, to really blow stuff out of the water.”