Unanswered Questions Loom as American Association Dark on Opening Day
American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier talks about the delay to the 2020 American Association season and how fans will have to wait to have some pivotal questions answered.
2020 American Association Season Delayed Until at Least July
There is nothing like opening day in baseball. It doesn’t matter if you are in Little League or the Majors, the excitement of a new baseball season is like no other in sports. It truly is something special.
Many spend their long winters awaiting the first crack of the bat. They are excited about the smell of hot dogs, the call of “Programs! Get your programs here.” It is true that nothing is more American than opening day of a baseball season.
However, the long winter’s wait has become the interminable spring delay. There is no chalking of the foul lines, no close calls at first, no shouts of “Play Ball!” Baseball remains in hibernation thanks to the concerns about Covid-19.
From Winnipeg to Cleburne – Baseball – We Miss You!
This is true in the American Association as well. Today was supposed to be opening day around the league. There were a lot of great storylines that were going to make this one of the most exciting in league history, but we wait to have them answered, if they will be answered in 2020 at all. Here are just some of the great themes that fans throughout the league were hoping to see answered:
How Will the New Managers Do?
Will first year managers Anthony Barone (Milwaukee Milkmen) and Jim Frisbie (Lincoln Saltdogs) compete for a division title in their first season at the helm? Frisbie has a lot of managing experience in independent ball, but has not a great deal of success. He was looking to build a new legacy for himself.
Barone was given his first professional managerial job and came with an impressive set of credentials at the amateur level. This was his first opportunity to build a team and to make all the decisions at this level, however.
Should the season get underway we will likely learn early on how their teams respond to their managerial style.
Can the St. Paul Saints Repeat?
After 15 years of disappointing endings, the St. Paul Saints were finally going to raise their first championship banner since 2004. They made an incredible run down the stretch last season, going 17-3 over the final 20 games, then trailed in every playoff game but one before winning it all.
Could they be the second repeat champions in five years (Joining the Winnipeg Goldeyes who won in 2017 and 2018)?
What Will the Winnipeg Goldeyes Look Like in 2021?
While I try to stay as impartial as possible, I will honestly admit that there are few who were pulling more for Winnipeg Goldeyes Manager Rick Forney than me. After two disappointing seasons, there was some ridiculous chatter about if the Goldeyes Skipper had maybe lost his edge. That was absurd on its face, but the tragic loss of his son a few months ago was a crushing blow. One thing that really touched my heart was that at the memorial service for his son David, who had been attending the Naval Academy, it was the Winnipeg Manager who was consoling David’s very distraught teammates. That is so typical of Rick Forney.
A tragedy like this can be a huge rallying point for a team, and it would have been very interesting to see how the team rallied behind their Skipper.
Unfortunately, even if the season does get underway, it will be without the Goldeyes, as the provincial government in Manitoba has already shutdown sporting events until at least early September. Next year, we hope the team returns to their 2017 form, but a year away from the league may have some long-lasting effects.
Will the Chinese Players Return to the Texas AirHogs in 2021?
After the Chinese National Team had a big showing at the Asian Games last year, finishing third for the first time, it was going to be pretty exciting to see how well they performed this season in the American Association. Manager Chris Bando had done an impressive job of instructing them to raise their game to the next level, and it would have been very interesting to see how that translated in the league.
Unfortunately, we may never see that come to reality. The contract to bring the Chinese players ended this season. No word has been given as to whether that agreement will extend into 2021.
Is This the Year of the Sioux City Explorers?
Last year’s American Association runners-up are reloaded with an arsenal of impressive arms, especially in their bullpen. Manager Steve Montgomery has quickly become arguably the best manager in the league, especially when it comes to player procurement, and many are wondering if this will finally be the team’s year.
It will be interesting to see if a pattern continues. The Saints were the runners-up in 2018, then won it all last year. The Explorers made the playoffs in 2018 and went to the title series last year. Could they be this season’s St. Paul Saints?
Is the Magic Over for Gary Southshore RailCats?
In the last three seasons, four teams have made the playoffs twice – St. Paul, Sioux City, the Kansas City T-Bones, and the Gary Southshore RailCats. Manager Greg Tagert has done an incredible job on a shoestring budget with young players who are often no more than a year or two removed from college. It has been remarkable.
However, the American Association is drawing a lot of talent from affiliate baseball, and that has left many wondering if the Tagert philosophy can work any longer. The team barely beat out the Milwaukee Milkmen to stay out of the cellar last season, and this may be a do or die season for one of the most successful managers in American Association history. Just the way Tagert likes it, however. Just as you think he is down he figures out a way to win.
Can the Sioux Falls Canaries Up Their Game?
The Sioux Falls Canaries were leading the South Division at the end of June last season, but the team went through a rut that saw them fall to the bottom half of the South Division. While the team has had great success in getting players signed by affiliate clubs, there has to be some pressure on Manager Mike Meyer to deliver a playoff team.
The Canaries Manager has developed a strategy that he believes will take this team to the next level and, on paper, his team looks pretty good. The South is a very tough division and the Bird Cage is not an easy place to pitch. With a new ballpark likely coming to Sioux Falls, ownership will be looking to see if Meyer is the guy they believe can keep this team in the playoff hunt year after year.
Can the Milwaukee Milkmen Get Fans Excited?
The Milkmen had a disappointing inaugural season. It was not just that the team finished in last in the North Division, but delays in the completion of the ballpark left the team playing “home” games in Kokomo, Indiana for a month. It took away some of the fan enthusiasm in what should have been a crazy fun year in Franklin.
For the second straight season, the team faces a disappointment. This time it is Covid-19 causing the delay. It is going to be tough for Milwaukee to compete in the North, but here is hoping that fans come in droves to see the team play. It is quite a show to say the least.
Can Josh Robertson Build Cleburne Railroaders into Champions?
It is likely that no team wanted back on the field more than the Cleburne Railroaders and their General Manager, Josh Robertson. This was a team that had everything going for them heading into the final week of the 2019 season. They were in first and had what looked like a fairly benign schedule with three games against Lincoln and three against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. Yet, they dropped four of their final six, finishing in third.
The G.M. took that personally, especially after there were questions as to whether he had lost his killer instinct. He has methodically and systematically built his roster looking to silence his doubters, but will already face some challenges should the season get underway, as four of his top players will likely not receive visas to come play in the United States. Will that mean it will be another also-ran season in Cleburne?
Can the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Rebound after a Disappointing Playoffs?
So, you are up 2-0 in a best-of-five series, and your Game 3 starter has a perfect game through six innings. You might as well start chilling the champagne and start booking your bus reservations for Sioux City.
That is the way it seemed for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks as it looked like they were going to easily sweep the Saints and move onto the American Association Championship season. However, the Saints made an improbable comeback – three straight in fact – winning the series on their way to the championship.
That has to leave a bad taste in the mouth of the RedHawks manager Jim Bennett and his team. The question is how they will respond to a heartbreak like that. Each loss seemed like it was scripted in Hollywood, and one has to wonder what will be the lingering effect, if any.
Can the Lincoln Saltdogs Pitching Staff Keep the Team in Games?
The Lincoln Saltdogs are in an interesting position. They have a new manager but look to be going with much of the same roster they had last season. This is a team that battered opponents the last few seasons, but that was not able to be sustained to support a pitching staff that was often mediocre at best.
The team must be expecting Frisbie to be able to rejuvenate a few careers for this team to win. He is going to need to be a miracle worker to get this team into the running when there are four teams in the division that look better than the Saltdogs on paper.
Are the Chicago Dogs the Favorites in the American Association?
What a difference a year makes. The Chicago Dogs had a great pitching staff in their first season, but could not hit. Last year, Manager Butch Hobson brought in two big sluggers in Victor Roache and Keon Barnum and the Dogs suddenly turned into one of the most prolific offenses in the American Association.
Barnum is with the Washington Nationals, but this lineup is still potent. The main question is if Hobson can add two more arms to go with ace Luke Westphal. If this team has three quality starters, they could very well be the American Association champions. They have everything else needed to be a 65-win team.
Will Fans Support the Kansas City T-Bones?
As impressive as Steve Montgomery has proven to be in building a team, the Maestro of the American Association is Kansas City T-Bones Skipper Joe Calfapietra. It seems he loses players to affiliate clubs as often as CNN gets a story wrong (at least a daily occurrence), yet, still finds a way to get quality talent often at the same level of those he lost.
Last year was one of the most impressive performances of all. With this team looking like they were going to be kicked out of their stadium, Calfapietra rallied the team to an impressive finish that saw them move from third place when the final week began to become division winners. It was a performance worthy of the Maestro.
While many wonder if he has another magical act in his arsenal, the big story for the T-Bones has to be how the team responds to a new ownership group. The Elherts are out as Mark Brandmeyer takes over the team. The team should be a winner on the field, but will they be a winner with fans again. Some damage was done with the community by the previous ownership group and it will be interesting to see if that damage was irreparable.
Don’t Be Too Discouraged
While the season will not get underway tonight, several of the broadcasters around the league are running Facebook Live specials. There are also teams showing big games from the past. You can find the Facebook pages and websites of each team below and we encourage all fans to join the shows. They should be a lot of fun.
Chicago Dogs: https://www.facebook.com/TheChicagoDogs/, http://thechicagodogs.com/
Cleburne Railroaders: https://www.facebook.com/cleburnerailroaders/, http://www.railroaderbaseball.com/
Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks: https://www.facebook.com/FMREDHAWKS/, http://www.fmredhawks.com/
Gary Southshore RailCats: https://www.facebook.com/railcat/, http://www.railcatsbaseball.com/
Kansas City T-Bones: https://www.facebook.com/tbonesbaseball/, http://www.tbonesbaseball.com/
Lincoln Saltdogs: https://www.facebook.com/Saltdogs/, http://www.saltdogs.com/
Milwaukee Milkmen: https://www.facebook.com/MKEMilkmen/, http://www.milwaukeemilkmen.com/
Sioux City Explorers: https://www.facebook.com/SiouxCityExplorers/, http://www.xsbaseball.com/
Sioux Falls Canaries: https://www.facebook.com/sfcanaries/, http://www.sfcanaries.com/
St. Paul Saints: https://www.facebook.com/stpaulsaints/, http://saintsbaseball.com/
Texas AirHogs: https://www.facebook.com/txairhogs/, http://www.airhogsbaseball.com/
Winnipeg Goldeyes: https://www.facebook.com/WinnipegGoldeyes/, http://www.goldeyes.com/
By Robert Pannier