There have been a lot of questions surrounding the upcoming summer baseball season in Alberta, across this country and around the world. Will it happen? Can we have a shortened campaign? How willing are players and fans to take part?
Those questions and more have been hanging over the head of Kevin Kvame. Over the last few weeks, the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) president has been trying to stay on top of all of the COVID-19 developments, checking in with the Saskatchewan and Alberta teams on a regular basis to get a sense of how they feel as we inch closer to the start to the season, which was originally set for late May.
There are a lot of variables at play, including two provinces experiencing different circumstances with the pandemic, and the ability of U.S. college players to get across the border. The WCBL held another board of governors meeting recently to chart the course for the summer. We chatted with Kvame about that meeting, as well as the Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) and Little League in southern Alberta.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q: So Kevin, what’s the verdict?
A: Well, the WCBL board of governors met and had a positive lengthy discussion about the league and the challenges we continue to face. As we said in early April, we kind of had some timelines in place, and it looks like our timeline to have a full season has passed us by without any major changes to the obstacles that we faced to have a season. So the decision was officially made that we move to plan B, which is to continue to monitor everything and look toward a shortened season that would start near the end of June or early July. Again, if health and government authorities permit those things to occur.
Q: What are some of the things going into that decision-making process? It seems as though it’s ever changing with this landscape.
A: I think we’re not trying to overreact and I don’t think we’re trying to underreact. We all realize that this is an unprecedented situation. None of us that are involved in this have ever been through anything like this before. We’re just trying to monitor it and get as much information about it as we can, see what the news of the day is. The news changes daily on governments reaction to it, both north and south of the border, and reactions to how they’re dealing with it around the world.
We don’t want to prematurely cut anything off that would give the communities, and the players especially, the opportunity to get back on the field and play baseball. Of course, we’re not going to do this without really knowing that it’s safe and can be deemed healthy for us to do that. To some it looks like an impossible task, to others in the league it appears to be an unlikely scenario, but each week that goes by there’s new information, new data that comes out from all of the sources that we’re monitoring. We don’t want to do something premature and then say a week down the road, “Oh my goodness, we should’ve thought of that.” We’re trying to be diligent and careful and we have our deadlines when we think we could get in a 2020 season, now shortened, sometime into August or as late into August as we could go at this point and give the players some baseball if it’s permitted.
Q: How challenging is it to try to navigate this while you have two provinces that are seemingly at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to COVID-19?
A: I think Saskatchewan has outlined their relaunch strategy, even that relaunch strategy is a long shot for us, however, Alberta is coming out with their relaunch strategy later this week and I’m a firm believer that the relaunch strategy in Alberta is not going to be dramatically different than what is happening in B.C. and Saskatchewan, our neighbouring provinces, because that’s going to create some challenges beyond baseball, just in society in general, if there are differing strategies in neighbouring provinces.
Q: Are there other logistical issues, especially when you look at the number of American kids who would be making their way up here?
A: Our two biggest issues are the gathering size and the border issue. The border issue is currently in closed mode, at least until the 21st of May and that may get extended after that – that’s another reason we looked at the earliest this could happen is late June or July at this point, knowing what we know, to get players up here.
We’re also going to closely follow what the Canadian Football League is doing. The National Hockey League has different parameters. They’re looking at different options, as well. We’re certainly not saying we’re at that level, nor do we have the staff to do what they do. We’re definitely trying to look at what they’re doing from a logistical standpoint, to see how they’re going to overcome those situations.
PRESS RELEASE – APRIL 30, 2020
The Western Canadian Baseball League has made the difficult but necessary decision to, at minimum, delay the start of the 2020 season until a late June or early July start date with other measures also being considered due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. pic.twitter.com/BcKcoH6lvp
— The WCBL (@wcbleague) April 30, 2020
Q: Is the notion of playing in front of no fans on the table for the WCBL?
A: It has been briefly discussed. At this point in time, there hasn’t been a lot of discussion around how to mitigate the financial loss from doing that. The players would love to play under any circumstances, just to get back on the ball field and to start and enjoy the game again. I will also add that they love playing in front of the fans, too, so if the players had a choice of playing in front of fans and not having a season, as being the determining factor, or playing in front of no fans and being able to play the season, they would choose playing over not playing.
Q: When it comes to the mood around the table, how challenging has it been to try to navigate this with all the member teams and try to get input from everybody?
A: Getting input from everybody has never been an issue in this league (laughs) … we have awesome governors in this league. They are passionate about their teams, they’re passionate about the historical presence of the Western Canadian Baseball League and its predecessors that have been around for years, and they all want to see the league become as successful as it can be. There’s different ways to get to that point and having different viewpoints is not necessarily a bad thing.
In the end, these are all professionals, they deal in a professional fashion and they bring their opinions to the table. They’re not scared of hearing other people’s opinions and in the end they make a decision that is in the best interest of the league in their view.
Q: Is there potential to have an all-Canadian roster, across the board, to avoid the issues around the border?
A: I think that’s been floated out there a couple of times, whether that would be the WCBL doing that or some of the franchises in the WCBL being able to do that, that really hasn’t been a long discussion at the WCBL table. It has been discussed. What do we do if everything else is good but the border issue is the problem? There may be some opportunities if baseball is allowed to be one of the sports that gets back on the field in the summer, you know, maybe there are some other things that would pop up that maybe some of the WCBL teams could support something like that, but I think that’s premature at this point because we’re focused in on the league season still being our top option, if at all possible
Q: You wear a lot of hats in this province. You’re president of the CCBC and I wanted to touch on that league, as well. Lethbridge was set to host the league championships in mid-May, and that’s unfortunately a no go now. Walk us through the decision-making process and some of the things that were talked about in cancelling the CCBC’s spring season?
A: That one was a lot different than the WCBL. You’ve got parallel things going on. The CCBC decision started right in mid-March there, and for us here in Lethbridge it was triggered by the infections and the government edicts about what’s going on.
(Prairie Baseball Academy coach Todd) Hubka made the call to shut down Lloyd Nolan Yard for a week, just to make sure we weren’t seeing a major outbreak because that facility is used so much by youth teams and by the academy.
Three days later the league was having a meeting and the momentum … this is two or three days after the NHL shut down, schools are shutting down and sending students home, saying we’re shut down for two weeks, and then a couple schools released information that they’re going to be longer and then there was lots of panic going on in society at that point in time, and it was felt in the best interests of the athletes that, with schools going remotely, that there was no point in keeping the athletes on site to train when school wasn’t in and we should get them back to their home cities while they were still able to get there. That was the thought process and once that was done, you saw the tsunami of decisions being made by different levels of government.
You were never going to be able to get back to getting the college league up and running in the spring in any fashion, so once the dates got set that until the end of April things were shut down it made no sense to have a two-week season or a World Series at that point, so they came back a couple weeks later and made the decision that they would try to get some sort of a CCBC season in place in the fall, starting around the Labour Day weekend. There’s all kinds of challenges still around that. No firm decisions have been made for the fall yet because this is like the WCBL now because you have the added luxury of some time before you have to make those decisions.