The Minnesota Baseball Association board, the seven-person group that oversees state amateur baseball, held a 90-minute conference call Wednesday night and agreed to permit “exhibition” games to be played starting Friday.
By Thursday morning, the Stearns County League — the collection of 10 smaller towns across that sprawling county — announced it would be playing a full schedule this weekend, starting with Greenwald at St. Martin on Friday at 8:30 p.m.
“We have told our teams they will not be disciplined by us if they resume playing games this weekend,” Mike Nagel, secretary-treasurer of the board, as well as manager of the Bird Island Bullfrogs, said on Thursday afternoon.
Many of the state’s town teams had expected to hear Gov. Tim Walz offer up a specific date in mid-June for baseball games to resume during Wednesday’s now-weekly media briefing. Instead, Walz suggested he was looking at July 1 as a possible starting point for games in team sports.
A missed week at this time of year means 500 to 600 games lost for state amateur baseball. Facing growing unrest from its teams, the board held its conference call and agreed not to punish teams under MBA rules if they were to start playing this weekend under specific conditions.
“It’s not nearly as simple as sending me a text that says, ‘We’re playing,’ as has happened this morning,” Nagel said. “A letter has to be submitted to me with your plan for following social distancing and meeting the other requirements for safety that the state board adopted several weeks ago. You must send us a document with approval from whatever entity is in charge of the stadium.
“We want people to be safe. We also can fit the latest guidance as laid out by state: 25% capacity with a maximum of 250 customers — in this case, fans — and 25 participants in an outdoor activity. We will be well inside the guidance for those things.
“We have sent the governor three different letters with our plan for safety. It’s a thorough plan. It’s a full commitment to keeping our fans and participants safe. We have received no response from the Governor’s Office, not even a ‘Leave us alone.’ ”
Nagel said it was “fairness,” not a political move, that caused the games to be declared exhibitions.
“Many of our teams play in city-owned ballparks and may not get approval to play in those parks,” Nagel said. “Others, like the Stearns County League, where nine of the 10 ballparks are private, they will have no trouble playing a full schedule.
“It would not be fair to the team unable to play to have rivals using these games in the standings, or counting as one of the games needed for an individual to be eligible for the playoffs.”
Nagel’s Bird Island team will play Friday night at the Milroy Irish, which plays in a ballpark built by manager Bob Dolan, meaning it wasn’t a complicated process to get the needed document signed by the owner.
One complication is umpires. The Northwest Umpires group and its active roster of 135 umpires work 400 games in town ball and at other levels over a summer weekend.
Jeff Schmidt, the assignment secretary, said the association would not be assigning umpires until the Minnesota Department of Health approves baseball and softball, labeled “medium-risk” activities, for game competition.
“We are uncertain of our liability if the government says you can’t play and MBA says you can,” Schmidt said. “Our legal counsel has advised us not to assign umpires until the state of Minnesota gives its approval for games.’’