The team-building clock started Monday for the Atlantic League and the Lancaster Barnstormers.
The league announced Friday that its member teams could begin offering player contracts Monday and that player signings could begin immediately.
The work began with equal parts uncertainty and optimism.
“Absolutely, we’re going to have baseball in 2021,” Barnstormers’ manager Ross Peeples said Monday.
“As a league family, we’re intent on moving forward to play this year,” said Mike Reynolds, the club’s general manager.
The AL lost its 2020 season to the pandemic. Although the details are very much up in the air, it needs to play ball in 2021. It also lost two teams to the pandemic combined with major league baseball shrinking and reconfiguring the affiliated minor leagues.
The AL Somerset Patriots are now the New York Yankees’ Class AA affiliate. The Sugar Land Skeeters have become the Houston Astros’ Class AAA club.
That leaves a six-member AL: Lancaster, York, Southern Maryland, Long Island, High Point, North Carolina, and a new franchise in Gastonia, North Carolina.
Reynolds said the league is looking to expand, ideally, in the short term, to eight teams. “Six teams probably isn’t the most ideal,” he admitted, “but it’s a strong six, and we know that growth is in the league’s future.”
The Barnstormers had 14 players signed for 2020 when the shutdown came. Peeples said he is in the process of contacting each of them and will probably, if not necessarily, offer them contracts.
“I want to get a sense of what their interest is, what they’ve been doing,” he said. “If they’ve been sitting on the couch for a year, we’ll probably move on.”
In theory, there should be a lot of ballplayers looking for jobs, with the shrunken minor leagues and AL. Peeples said there hasn’t been much activity, though.
“This is normally the time of year when I’m getting emails left and right from players, teams, agents,” he said. “It’s actually been very slow.”
Peeples said he talked recently to a pitching coordinator for a big-league organization who said he didn’t have much information, except that he expected affiliated minor leaguers will be reporting to spring training April 1.
That’s about a month later than normal. Based on that, Peeples guessed that the Barnstormers’ spring training would likely also begin roughly a month late, around midMay.
That would presumably point toward starting the season around June 1, but there is not yet an official start date, much less a schedule. Peeples will start the season with 25 players and may invite a couple extra to spring training.
“It’s been slow at work,” Peeples said, “but it’s been picking up a little the last couple weeks.”
Reynolds said the club has 20 full-time employees, up from 15 a few months ago. There also are several parttime employees, and seasonal workers will return when baseball does.
The community events, such as movies and concerts, at Clipper Magazine Stadium that sustained the business through 2020 will continue. “We’re building a full year’s activity at the stadium,” Reynolds said. “In the spring, summer and fall, we’re an events business.”