USPBL's Andy Appleby hopes for season of 'normalcy' after taking a hit
Andy Appleby, CEO and owner of the Utica-based United Shore Professional Baseball League, felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic this past summer all too well.
There were delays to start the season and crowd-size limitations, but eventually there was a champion, the Utica Unicorns. Revenue took a hit.
But Appleby remains upbeat, going full speed ahead to get back to business as usual for 2021.
"We feel optimistic with the recent vaccine news that we will be back to some level of normalcy," Appleby said Monday in an email interview with The Detroit News. "Yes, for sure (the fans will come back)."
Appleby recapped last season:
"We had circa 100-300 fans each game and well-separated with over six feet of social distance. We also had a 224-page COVID protocol with all the bells and whistles to make our employees and guests extremely safe.
"We planned to start May 8, and ... we (eventually after delays) settled on July 3 for the first game. We managed to get the whole season in as we were able to stretch the season out to the end of September (Sept. 27)."
Appleby said, "For some of the games we blocked off a separate large right-field summer picnic area for host families to finally be able to see their players play some games. They had their own entrance, and the area was roped off for them with full social distancing outside, masks, temperature checks included.
He said he isn't sure on how much money was lost, but he thinks the USPBL, headed toward its sixth season, might be able to break even because of its partners.
Players mostly earn in the $600-a-month range. Managers and coaches are salaried, and umpires make about $150 a game.
Appleby is realistic about COVID-19 causing problems down the road.
"Well, we'll just have to do what everyone else does – find a way to make it work and survive,” he said. “Our TV broadcast was our saving grace this year as we averaged over 16,000 viewers a night, so the sponsors could derive a great deal of value. We will once again feature our upgraded four-camera broadcast for 2021."
Appleby said he got discouraged last season "but we carried on."
On other topics:
►Saturday doubleheaders will be back. "We needed to get games in to fill the season," Appleby said. "The good news is that our clients loved the doubleheaders. So we will keep them on the calendar through 2021."
►Ticket prices won't be increased.
►He said his staff most likely will be at full strength for the season, but it depends on the ability to have summer picnics.
►Appleby said the league is "for sure" working on some extra-innings ideas.
Around the horn
►May 28th is Opening Night at Jimmy John's Field, when Birmingham Bloomfield faces Utica.
►There will be about 75 players total among the four teams. The USPBL is scouting players across the country.
►Thirty-seven USPBL players have signed with major-league organizations.
►Former Unicorn right-hander Randy Dobnak has been with the Minnesota Twins the past two years. He is 8-5 with a 3.12 ERA over 75 innings in 19 games. He was with Utica in 2017.
Art Brooks is a freelance writer.