For the first time this season, some of the Barrie Baycats took to the field Thursday night.
While COVID-19 protocols must still be followed, getting a chance to throw the ball around, take some batting practice and put in some work was a long time coming for the six-time defending Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) champions.
“Things are on their way, but very slow,” Baycats president Dave Mills said.
It was last March when Mills had to make the tough call to suspend operations for the 2020 season, which would be cancelled as a result of an unrelenting pandemic.
The wait continues.
While the IBL has announced a July 5th start date for the 2021 season, that’s only two weeks away and Ontario still remains in Stage 1 of the province’s Roadmap to Reopen.
“I’m hearing good news where vaccines are going through the roof, which is good,” Mills said. “Once we get more and more vaccinations, these steps are going to be brought back so there are more and more openings.”
Getting the province to Step 2 of the recovery requires 70 per cent of adults to be vaccinated with one dose and 20 per cent vaccinated with two doses.
The province is just about there now.
“About a month ago, the (provincial) government said once we reach those, we’re really going to open things up,” Mills said. “Basically, we’re there. Now it’s going to be a matter of the politicians saying, ‘OK, lets move this quicker now.’ That’s where we’re at now.
“It only bodes well if we can move all those dates up to get us on the playing field.”
Delaying the season any further might be difficult for a league that normally wraps up its season in late August. Fielding a full roster already isn’t easy with players on U.S. scholarships having to head south in late August.
A decision on this season could likely come at a league meeting in the next few days. A league that largely depends on gate revenue, Mills is hoping the province will give them some direction in terms of just how many fans will be allowed at games.
“There may be a percentage capacity if we were to start. That’s what we’re working on now,” he said. “We’re waiting for the province to say, ‘You can have 15 per cent capacity,’ that type of thing. Given that, we’ll be ready to Rock N Roll.
“Problem is if we don’t have that, if we don’t have fans in the stands, revenue becomes an issue for all teams other than Toronto, which doesn’t have people paying at the gate. Everyone else, we do rely on revenue at the gate.”
Sponsors are also a vital part of financial sustainability for IBL teams and Mills says he has 10 or 12 sponsors telling him if there’s any further delay they’re not sure they can support the team this year.
Only thing is, Mills can’t give them a concrete answer right now.
“And that’s the hard part,” Mills said. “If I could say, ‘Here’s the schedule, we’re opening on July 5th, and the guy can say, ‘Hey, I can see now you’re ready to go.’ Without that, how do you even convince someone there’s going to be a season?”
All Mills and the Baycats can do is ensure that they will be ready to go if and when that call comes that there will be a season.
“We got our program pretty well ready to go,” he said. “It’s 99 per cent ready. If there’s a season, we can press the button and in 10 days we can have a season program out there. I got everything ready for the schedule, I just got to put the dates in now.”
Still, he admits they will need a little time to set the park up.
“We’re ready to jump on it as soon as we get the word,” Mills said. “From our perspective in Barrie, it’s about 10 to 12 days we need to get the signage in the park up, the information and what the protocols are and all that. It’s at least a 10-day window I need.”
On the field, the rebuilding Baycats lost several veterans, but Mills believes they can still field a young, exciting squad that fans will love to watch.
It’s likely most IBL rosters won’t include imports.
“The problem with imports for anybody, they can’t get into Canada,” Mills said. “I checked with immigration and they said nobody is coming in here, so until the federal government says borders are open forget the imports.”
Mills admits it’d be tough to have to cancel the season for a second year in a row. He worries fans might find other ways to spend their summer days then down at Coates Stadium.
“We made a call in March last year that we weren’t going to play and that was based on we didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “We didn’t know about anything else. This year we know a hell of a lot more than we did last year and there’s less uncertainty than there was last year.
“That gives me hope we can get this thing in.”
Feature image courtesy Brian Backland