Tuesday was Opening Day for the Spokane Indians baseball club. That’s a big day in any year, but especially this year because the 2020 minor league season was cancelled.
The Indians are not only adjusting to pandemic-related changes, but also to a radical restructuring of the minor league baseball system.
Major League Baseball reduced the minor league system from 160 teams to 120 during the offseason. Some long-time franchises lost their affiliations with major league teams. Spokane wasn’t among the 40 teams axed, but its situation was not clear until only recently.
“We are now two levels higher than we’ve been for the last 40 years in the baseball world. We’re two levels up, which means we’re High-A as our classification. All of our players are going to be bigger, better, faster, stronger. They’re older than they’ve been. We’re going to have better baseball here than we’ve seen in a long time," said Spokane Indians senior vice president Otto Klein.
The parent team is now the Colorado Rockies, instead of the Texas Rangers. The season has lengthened from 70 games to 120. It will start a month earlier and end a month later.
The pandemic has eased enough that fans are now allowed in the park, although how many is a moving target, depending on what level Spokane is at in the coronavirus reopening protocol. So, Otto Klein is warning people ahead of time, they’ll be asked to wear masks, to undergo a temperature scan, to wash their hands. Their tickets will be scanned on their phones.
“This year, another new opportunity that you’ll have is you’ll be able to order your food on your phone and there’s going to be an express pick-up line if you want to come down and get it and, in certain sections of the ballpark, we’re going to deliver your food directly to your seat. There’s all these ways that the fan experience is going to be different," he said.
It will also be different for the players. Instead of eating meals in the clubhouse, they’ll eat outside in tents and they’ll be able to train in a new weight room.
With any luck, Klein says the pandemic will ease and summer crowds will be closer to those in a normal year. But for now, his staff will take what it can get.
“I think everyone’s just eager and excited to have a baseball game here. We just want to do it in as safe a way as possible and I think people will appreciate how clean it is here, the hand sanitizing station, the precautions that we’ve taken and they get to see baseball again," he said.
The Indians lost their opener, 9-5, to the Eugene Emeralds. First pitch for game two will start at 6:30 as the Spokane Indians at Avista Stadium.