Editor’s note: This story was produced through a partnership between the INDY and The 9th Street Journal, which is published by journalism students at Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy.
Officials of the Durham Bulls have been hopeful they could still play games with fans this summer. But it’s looking increasingly unlikely the stars can align to make that possible.
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel was blunt about it Wednesday when he told faculty and staff at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, “We’re not going to have a minor league baseball season.”
He later clarified his comments in a text message to The 9th Street Journal: “I probably should have been more explicit. I think it is possible that there will be games with essentially no crowds. They are still waiting to hear from Major League Baseball. But I am pessimistic about even that.”
While other professional leagues across the country are starting to make a comeback, the 2020 baseball season remains on hold while Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association continue slow negotiations about a return to action. Owners and the union are trying to strike a deal on the number of games and how much players should earn, but they are still far apart.
The league’s second offer came on Monday, and, per ESPN, included a 76-game regular season ending by Sept. 27, an expansion of eight teams per league for the 2020 postseason. Players would receive 75% of their prorated salaries, contingent on the completion of the postseason.
The players association responded on Tuesday proposing an 89-game regular season, eight teams per league in the postseason for 2020 and 2021, and players get their full prorated salaries.
AAA teams such as the Bulls are dependent on that agreement to spell out the details of their seasons and Bulls officials have said they need games with fans for the team to be profitable.
In the meantime, another Triangle-area team owned by Capitol Broadcasting, which also owns the Bulls, is calling it quits.
The Holly Springs Salamanders released a statement Wednesday canceling the 2020 season. The team informed the Coastal Plain League that it would not be playing ball this summer due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Wake County, and the uncertainty of how many fans might be allowed to attend games.
“We appreciate the work the Coastal Plain League has done during this difficult time, but we felt this was the best decision for the health and safety of our fans, players, and staff,” Salamander’s General Manager Chip Hutchinson wrote in the statement.
Bulls Vice President Mike Birling said he was not aware of the comment made by Schewel. The team continues to wait for the outcome of the MLB-union negotiations.
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