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'We miss baseball': Michigan's minor league teams disappointed over canceled season

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

There will be some baseball played in Michigan’s minor league parks this summer, but it won’t be what fans and each of the organizations were looking forward to.

The announcement on Tuesday by Major League Baseball that it wouldn’t be providing players for their affiliated minor league teams meant, effectively, the minor league season was canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

That means no games in Lansing, Midland and Grand Rapids as well as Toledo, where the Mud Hens play as the Triple-A affiliate of the Tigers.

Muddonna the mascot will have to wait a year before it can pump up the crowd at Toledo Mud Hens games.

“This is a difficult time for our organization and your support is needed now more than ever,” the Mud Hens said in a statement.

“We miss baseball,” the statement continued. “The sights and sounds and smells, but most of all we miss you. We miss your enthusiasm and excitement. We miss getting stopped on the concourse to hear stories of your children meeting Muddy and Muddonna, throwing out a first pitch and getting caught on the kiss cam. Incredible nights out at the ballpark are created by you.

“To say we are saddened by this development is an understatement, but we know this determination did not come lightly.”

The decision officially halted what the teams were expecting to at least be a shortened season, one not unlike the one that will be played at baseball’s highest level. The fact the Tigers and every other major league team will be carrying a “taxi squad” of players that need to be available to fill any roster holes means there will be some sort of baseball played at Fifth Third Field in Toledo.

The squad of Tigers reserves will be practicing and playing simulated games there, something Mud Hens management hopes will ultimately be open to fans.

“Our team is also working on a schedule of events that you can safely attend with your friends and family,” the Mud Hens said. “And while we may not be able to high-five and hug, we know you will still go home with some incredible memories.”

While the state’s three single-A teams won’t have the benefit of hosting players from major league clubs, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some sort of action.

Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing, home of the Midwest League’s Lugnuts — an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays — will be hosting a wooden bat collegiate league — the Lemonade League — that plans to play 20 games beginning later this month. There is also a list of activities that will continue at the downtown ballpark, including movie nights, weekly fireworks and games between Michigan State and Michigan in the fall.

“We are disappointed that there will not be a 2020 Lugnuts season, but there were a lot of challenges and we understand why this decision was made,” Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson said in a statement. “We look forward to safely hosting you for non-Lugnuts events throughout the rest of this year, and then celebrating the return of Lugnuts baseball to Mid-Michigan with you next year.”

More: Play ball! USPBL to start season Friday, with fewer than 100 fans allowed

For the West Michigan Whitecaps, a single-A affiliate of the Tigers that plays at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, the shutdown means no minor league baseball in the Grand Rapids area for the first time in a little more than a quarter of a century.

“We are deeply disappointed,” the Whitecaps posted to their Facebook page. “We miss all of you. …You will have questions about the Whitecaps, the path forward, tickets and more. We will be working hard, and doing our best, to answer those questions in the coming days.”

For the Great Lakes Loons, a single-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers that play at Dow Diamond in Midland, the cancellation of the season comes on the heels of historic flooding in the area that has crippled the area.

“We’re obviously disappointed to hear this news that we’ve been fearing would come since the coronavirus outbreak first impacted our daily lives back in March,” Loons president and general manager Brad Tammen said. “Although we won’t have baseball at the ballpark this summer, we’re committed to Midland and the Great Lakes Bay Region. We will continue to work with our local partners to assist our region in recovering from the catastrophic flood and address the changing issues associated with the pandemic.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau