Normally on this date in this time slot I would be announcing my June Shorebird Pitcher and Position Player of the Month. Instead, I get to react to the bad news that there will be no Shorebirds of the Month in 2020.
It’s a decision that was sort of baked into the cake once we passed Memorial Day with no major league baseball in sight but on Tuesday Minor League Baseball pulled the plug on the 2020 season. For the Delmarva Shorebirds, it cancels what would have been their milestone 25th season, a campaign where they were likely to be among the South Atlantic League’s top contenders given they won a team record 90 games in 2019.
As far as my website goes, it really changes my summer routine. New readers might not know that, for the previous 14 seasons, I have honored two to five Delmarva players a month – first as Shorebird of the Week, and for the last three seasons I selected a Shorebird Pitcher and Position Player of the Month. Normally by this point of the season I would already have the thrill of knowing that two or three of them would be inducted into the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame come December as they had made their debut in the Show. Later this fall I would have selected a Shorebird of the Year and done my picks and pans as a Shorebird fan, commenting on the overall stadium experience during the season.
But while I will miss doing most of these posts – it is likely I will eventually have a Hall of Fame Class of 2020 based on who the Orioles and others are trying out – that’s not my main concern here.
While the Shorebirds put on a brave face in talking about a 2021 return, there is already a whirlwind of activity regarding minor league baseball with which to contend.
First of all, at season’s end the Shorebirds are no longer contractually obligated to be an Orioles’ affiliate. Normally this is a routine renewal but these aren’t routine times: with minor league contraction all but certain thanks to the proposed deal between Major League Baseball and their MiLB counterparts, the Orioles will need only four affiliates instead of five. An early list of contracted teams included the Frederick Keys, who serve as the advanced-A affiliate for the Orioles – presumably that franchise would relocate to Aberdeen, which was slated to lose its rookie league team as that classification is phased out but has facilities and a fan base sufficient to support a higher classification.
However, if Frederick is successful in convincing the powers that be to stay – a case bolstered by the fact Maryland will almost certainly lose the Hagerstown Suns, a class A team that’s the Shorebirds’ biggest rival but one which had been rumored for relocation over the last several years anyway because of outdated facilities and poor attendance – then the Orioles would almost certainly prefer keeping the closest affiliates. (I don’t think Norfolk is going to lose its AAA team.) In that case, the situation may play out such that Delmarva keeps its team but loses its longtime Orioles affiliation and returns full circle to the Nationals (the successor team to the Expos, who were Delmarva’s first parent team for a season when they relocated here in 1996.)
Yet there is a wild card in that, too, because in addition to the contraction, we are going to see classifications upended as well. Leagues seeking better geographical balance and shorter road trips may expand or contract themselves, or be created anew: one rumor was that a Mid-Atlantic League of six teams would be formed as a class A league. A possible configuration for that would be having Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Aberdeen promoted from rookie league to full season ball to serve as the class A teams for the Yankees, Mets, and Orioles respectively. Lakewood would remain in the loop as a Phillies team – although that affiliation could also be given to Wilmington, which would step down from the advanced-A Carolina League as its northernmost team and join a more regional outfit. The loser in that battle could likely be a Red Sox affiliate, leaving Delmarva to be the Nationals A-ball team. Travel would be reduced considerably, with the worst trip being Salisbury to New York City, and we would see all these teams 14 times over the home season.
So we have no idea whether the crushing disappointment of losing a playoff elimination game at home in a 1-0 heartbreaker may the the last memory of the Delmarva Shorebirds. The chances of that being the case are remote, but so was the idea that a virus would cost Delmarva baseball fans a triumphant 25th season with their team.