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Five prospective USPBL players test positive ahead of season opener

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Five prospective players tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the United Shore Professional Baseball League's season opener Friday night at Jimmy John's Field in Utica.

The players had not yet signed their contracts, which were contingent on players testing negative, said Dana Schmitt, Chief Operating Officer of the four-team independent league.

The USPBL starts its season Friday.

Players were told to get tested at home before coming to town, and then were to be tested again over the past week before they could be added to an official roster.

The USPBL tested about 68 prospective players.

The five who tested positive were sent home, and must quarantine for at least two weeks. They must have two negative tests before they are eligible to sign their contracts.

It's "to be determined" if any of those five players will get contracts once they show the negative tests, said Schmitt, adding that with affiliated minor-league baseball canceled for this season, the USPBL's pool of players to sign from has greatly expanded.

Players weren't able to participate in any team activities until they tested negative, Schmitt said Thursday.

The USPBL's regularly scheduled Opening Day was set for early May, then pushed back into late May, then June, before league founder and owner Andy Appbleby decided within the last week that the season would start on the holiday weekend.

The season starts at 7:05 p.m. Friday, with the Westside Woolly Mammoths playing the Utica Unicorns. At 7:05 Saturday, the Eastside Diamond Hoppers played the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers.

Fewer than 100 fans will be allowed inside the stadium, in accordance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order which continues to ban large gatherings.

Appleby hopes, at some point this season, the league can get to at least 20-percent stadium capacity, which would be about 900 fans. The stadium holds 4,500, and routinely has sold out dozens of ball games in each of its previous four years. Appleby did say that if Whitmer doesn't eventually move Metro Detroit into the so-called Phase 5, which would allow larger gatherings, he will have to consider cancelling the season.

Still, Appleby has said "under no circumstances" will the league go out of business.

For those who can't attend the games, they will stream live on the league's YouTube page. The league is planning to up its production value amid the pandemic.

The USPBL put together a 172-page reopening plan, detailing hundreds of health and safety precautions.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984