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Bandits, LumberKings seasons canceled
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Bandits, LumberKings seasons canceled

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Bandits Opening Day01

Fans stand in line outside of Modern Woodmen Park on Opening Day in 2016, something that won't happen this year after all 160 minor-league clubs, including the Quad Cities River Bandits, had their seasons canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Quad Cities River Bandits and Clinton LumberKings, the final out of the minor-league baseball season was recorded before the first pitch of 2020 was ever thrown.

After being informed by Major League Baseball that it would not be providing affiliated minor-league teams with players for the 2020 season, Minor League Baseball announced Tuesday that its 160 teams would not be playing games this season, the byproduct of a COVID-19 pandemic that shut down spring training in March and has delayed the start of the major-league season until July 23.

It marks the first time since 1959 that Midwest League baseball won’t be played at Davenport’s riverfront ballpark and the first time since 1953 that Clinton, the league’s last remaining charter member, hasn’t hosted games at its riverfront stadium.

"It’s a really sad day for baseball," River Bandits owner Dave Heller said. "It’s a sad day for sports fans, a sad day for families who like go out and enjoy quality time together and just a sad day for our country."

LumberKings general manager Ted Tornow said when players were sent home from spring training in mid-March as concerns over the coronavirus grew, he knew there was a chance that the season might not happen.

When the start of the minor-league season was delayed and then became entangled in issues that complicated the return of major-league games, it became apparent that what happened Tuesday could and likely would become reality.

"We held out hope for at least a portion of games that we could play to try to bring baseball to our fans and our community," Tornow said. "The 2020 season ended before it really began. With a worldwide pandemic grinding everyday life to a halt and the slow progression back to real life, it just made it impossible to play."

For both clubs, the cancellation of the season means the loss of 70 home games in a season that was scheduled to open April 4 and run through Labor Day.

For the River Bandits, 2020 marked a chance to move beyond a 2019 season which saw 17 home games relocated during the first half of the season because of flood-related issues on the adjacent Mississippi River.

"It’s been a rough couple of years and we were so looking forward to this season," Heller said. "We were ahead of (sales) projections in every category, groups, sponsorships, season tickets. We had a tremendous promotional schedule in place."

"We had so much to be excited about, especially after the flooding a year ago. That’s what makes it even more disappointing."

Pat O’Conner, the president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, pointed out that this is the first time since the organization’s founding in 1901 that there will have been a summer without affiliated minor-league baseball being played in the United States.

"It wasn’t an acrimonious decision. I appreciate everyone feeling bad about today, but this has been months in the coming. It was the right thing to do," O’Conner said. "From a practical sense, it was the only thing to do."

Conner said the situation, which because of timing will leave minor-league teams without their main revenue source — games — for a 19-month period, has created major financial issues for many franchises.

Many have laid off or furloughed full-time staff members, and part-time seasonal help never worked a day this year.

The River Bandits and LumberKings have retained nearly all of their full-time employees and will continue to look for other ways to generate revenue to benefit their teams for the remainder of the year.

Modern Woodmen Park in the Quad-Cities has hosted youth baseball tournaments that past three weekends and has additional tournaments booked every weekend through the end of July.

"If people want to come out and watch some good young players, enjoy a hot dog or two with the family, we’d love to have them come out and watch," Heller said.

With suite-level and other space available for meetings, reunions and other gatherings, the River Bandits continue to book other non-baseball events at the facility.

Shortly after Tuesday’s announcement, Clinton’s NelsonCorp Field hosted its second Batting Practice at the Ballpark, a chance for $10 for fans to take batting practice on the field and for the LumberKings to earn revenue.

The stadium has hosted Curbside Dining and will continue to host a summer concert series in addition to other events.

"We’ll continue to seek out and book as many events as we can," Heller said, sentiments echoed by Tornow.

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Since the first pitch of a Midwest League baseball game was thrown at Davenport’s riverfront baseball stadium 60 years ago, a collection of 2,011 players have taken the field for the home team.

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