DULUTH – As Northwoods League teams paired off into pods to salvage their seasons, Duluth baseball fans started feeling like the last kid to get picked in gym class.
Only they didn’t get picked at all.
The Duluth Huskies canceled the 2020 season this week because of the COVID-19 pandemic after waiting as long as possible for conditions to improve.
“At this time there are too many unanswerable questions in many areas critical to our 2020 season being successful,” the team said Wednesday. “Health issues and safety for fans, players, coaches, host families and staff were foremost in our decisionmaking.”
Team owner Michael Rosenzweig said it was also a financial decision as the state’s crowd-size restrictions coupled with higher team costs because of Duluth’s distance from other clubs all made the risks higher than the rewards.
“We all love baseball, and this was not an easy decision but one that had to be made,” he said Thursday. “Of the phone calls and e-mails and text messages I’ve received today, the overwhelming response is we did the right thing.”
As the virus crept into the region in April, Duluth announced it would close Wade Stadium until July 1, leaving hope for at least a shortened season, as the Huskies home opener was originally set for June 1.
Nearly all teams in the Northwoods League, now in its 27th year of giving college ballplayers a summer home, will be playing as of July 1.
Four regional pods, consisting of North Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota/Iowa teams, formed in the past month, but the Huskies were not among them.
Rosenzweig said it was his call to cancel the season, and Northwoods League Great Plains Division President Glen Showalter said each team had to decide whether to play this year.
“We’re fortunate that it happened in a majority of our markets,” Showalter said. “On the flip side, not every community was able to bring baseball back, but I know rigorous efforts were made by all parties.”
Eau Claire and Madison also canceled their seasons this week.
All other Minnesota teams — Willmar, Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud — will play this summer in a pod with Waterloo, Iowa.
The Huskies finished the 2019 season 29-38 after losing the 2018 league championship series to the Fond du Lac Dock Spiders following a record 47-25 season.
This year’s season tickets will be honored in the 2021 season, which should start just after Memorial Day, pandemic pending.
“We’ve had the most beautiful weather in Duluth in June I’ve seen in a very long time, and here we are sitting with our ballparks closed,” Rosenzweig said. “We are looking forward to a great 2021 — we’re moving forward.”
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496