This past Friday, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders president John Adams hopped on “The Show Before the Show,” a MiLB podcast hosted by Tyler Maun and Sam Dykstra. On this episode, Adams discussed the goings-on at the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, and his expectations for the logistics of the still-hazy 2021 season.
In terms of how this year’s Triple-A season might look different from 2019 (the last full season of minor league ball), the trio discussed the impact of the delayed start date as well as some overall changes to the league. While the RailRiders’ season was supposed to start on April 6th, MLB has since announced that the league will delay the Triple-A Opening Day until May 4th, with the RailRiders’ first homestand now coming on May 11th in order to maximize attendance in accordance with COVID protocols.
Adams stated that as of now, Pennsylvania is allowing ballparks to operate at 20 percent capacity, but that he expects that “increase by at least 10 percent” before Opening Day. That means at least 2,000 people should be able to attend ballgames at PNC Field by the beginning of May.
The postponement will allow for the return of last year’s institution of alternate, developmental sites, at each team’s Triple-A facility. Like last year, PNC Field will be the Yankees’ alternate site for at least the first month of the season, at which the team’s most likely call-ups will continue to train.
Adams explained that if anything, the postponement of the season has been helpful to his organization in continuing to prepare for the eventual season in the midst of a pandemic. Also, Adams noted that the Triple-A season postponement had more to do with the protection of the major league rosters than any lack of preparedness for a Triple-A season:
“[MLB is] always going to be more protective of Triple-A than Single-A and Double-A just because of the level of integration with the major league team and guys constantly going up and down, and there being a lot less [sic] resources at the Triple-A level to keep the players safe.”
Specifically, Adams mentioned that regular commercial-grade travel leaves Triple-A players open to COVID exposure that major leaguers would be structurally protected from, especially with Triple-A’s new format.
Before last season, Triple-A consisted of two leagues — the 14-team International League and the 16-team Pacific Coast League. Now, Triple-A will have two brand new leagues, Triple-A East and Triple-A West, with 20 and 10 teams respectively. For Triple-A East teams like the RailRiders, the altered structure should provide for some fun matchups against a larger variety of opponents, but will cause a significant increase to the logistical load of the organization, especially during the pandemic. However, vaccinating players before they report to their minor league camps would allay much of these concerns.
In his explanation, Adams disclosed a likely uptick in the number of necessary flights due to the league’s new inclusion of teams as far west as St. Paul and as far south as Jacksonville. In those cases of a necessary flight, minor league teams are without the bubble-like infrastructure afforded to big league clubs, including the team jet and luxury hotels. Instead, Triple-A clubs need to charter buses to and from the airport, fly commercial, and book relatively inexpensive lodging and accommodations. A smaller budget puts a strain on the COVID-safety of each of these steps. By waiting until May, MLB is banking on a broader percentage of the country’s population having been vaccinated, and a general recession of transmission rates.
Adams also discussed the disappointment of losing last year’s Triple-A All-Star Game, stressing his organization’s excitement to showcase the Northeastern Pennsylvania area. Professionally speaking, he referred to the loss of the game as, “… the most devastating part of last year.” Still, Adams is hopeful that MLB will plan for another All-Star Game in “NEPA” soon.
When asked about what will make him feel like baseball is back, Adams gushed about his excitement for the season, “I think it’ll feel pretty normal just because it will be baseball, and we’ll have fans at the ballpark. I think when the RailRiders take the field for the first time and they’re announced through the PA system and some pump-up music blaring and fans standing up and cheering that’s going to be a really special moment.”
However, he did concede his one hang-up about that May 11th game: “The only thing that’s going to be disappointing in that is we might only have 3,000 people there instead of 10,000 people to enjoy it.”