COVID relief money coveted by NJ minor league baseball teams



to play

After a COVID year that saw the entire 2020 minor league season canceled and 40 teams disbanded in a new takeover of lower teams by Major League Baseball, there could be help on the horizon .

The bipartisan minor league baseball relief act was introduced in Congress last week and could bring some $ 550 million in COVID relief to dozens of eligible teams, including the Jersey Shore Blue Claws.

“While the BlueClaws are certainly excited to play again this year, the past 16 months have been extremely difficult financially for our team and everyone in the industry,” said BlueClaws President Joe Ricciutti in an online appeal. for the support of the legislation. “Passing this bill would greatly help teams like the BlueClaws and we thank everyone for their continued support.”

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His post noted that “the bill reallocates remaining COVID-19 relief funds to an emergency grants program designed to help teams recover from the huge economic impact of the past 16 months.”

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, introduced the legislation on June 28 at an event at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford, home of the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats, a branch of the Colorado Rockies.

“Essentially, as a lifeline, that money would go to teams to make up for their lost income in the past,” Blumenthal said, according to the Hartford Courant. “Lack of stadium closures will be compensated, as will for shows, concert halls or clubs or theaters and stages, museums. Minor league baseball was left out.

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Maximum bailout of $ 15 million

All 120 minor league teams would be eligible based on their specific financial needs, with up to $ 15 million available for each club. It is co-sponsored by Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. Supporters hope it will be included in the next federal infrastructure bill.

“Baseball is America’s hobby and brings communities together,” Blumenthal tweeted after the introduction. “The bipartisan Minor League Baseball Relief Act will be a lifeline for so many minor league teams across the country – like the (Yard Goats) who have been forced to shut down their baseball fields due to the pandemic. “

Minor League Baseball has created a special web page to promote the legislation, including sample fan letters to download and send to their representatives in Congress urging them to pass the proposal.

“Urgent action is needed to safeguard MiLB’s vital contribution to local economies across the country, by stimulating income and economic growth and serving as pillars of the community,” the webpage said. “MiLB is essential for local businesses, as many nearby businesses are built around core traffic, and MiLB clubs are key customers of local vendors and vendors. This is especially true for local hotels, gas stations, restaurants and bars, all of which thrive during baseball season. “

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It includes an interactive map offering the names and contact details of Senators and House members in each team’s home region.

“COVID has struck at the worst possible time for Minor League Baseball – right before the MiLB season – so MiLB clubs have not been able to cut spending significantly and have taken the brunt of the loss,” he said. added the web page. “Two-thirds of clubs took on additional debt to survive the pandemic (with an average increase of over $ 1.25 million). In the absence of financial relief, almost 75% of clubs will have to take on even more debt, which is further complicated by the fact that almost a third of MiLB clubs are currently in breach of their loan covenants. “

A year of contraction for MiLB

Minor league baseball has undergone some of the biggest changes in any industry during the pandemic, and even before.

During the dormant 2020 season, Major League Baseball reorganized the teams and took a more direct hand in operations, but forced 42 teams to disband, including the Staten Island Yankees.

New Jersey didn’t lose a team, but the Trenton Thunder was dropped as a Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, who moved their players, coaches and batboys north to Bridgewater and the Somerset Patriots.

Hundreds of players, coaches and support staff have lost their jobs, not to mention the related business in local communities like Auburn, New York and Burlington, Iowa.

But the players who stayed received standard increases of 38% to 72%, according to the Associated Press, which noted that the weekly minimum rose from $ 290 to $ 400 at the rookie level, from $ 290 to $ 500 in class A, from $ 350 to $ 600 in Double-A and $ 502 to $ 700 at Triple-A.

“For players on lists of 40 players on voluntary or outright assignment to minors, the minimum is covered by the collective agreement of the Major League Baseball Players Association and goes from $ 46,000 to $ 46,600 for a player signing his first major league contract, ”AP reported. . “For a player signing a second or later major league contract, the minimum goes from $ 91,800 to $ 93,000.”

These changes were underway before COVID shut down most businesses and schools in March 2020, prompting Congress to act even then.

Washington, DC’s first opposition came from a letter to MLB signed by more than 100 members of Congress in December 2019. These included New Jersey’s own representative, Chris Smith, R-Monmouth; Representative Any Kim, D-Ocean; and representing Bonnie Watson-Coleman, D-Mercer.

“The abandonment of minor league clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond buyers and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs,” the letter said. “We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always given to our national pastime on a wide variety of initiatives. legislative. “

In early 2020, House members introduced a resolution to save the minor league system and oppose squad cuts, as well as a proposal to audit minor league operations by the Congressional Budget Office. Neither has ever been approved.

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Teams advocate online

But the latest congressional effort seems to have more life than these previous attempts, with dozens of teams – from the Midland (Texas) Rockhounds to the Chattanooga (Tennessee) Lookouts – making the case to their fans online and with callbacks to leave. their members of Congress know they need relief.

“The average Minor League Baseball (MiLB) club lost over 90% of their revenue from 2019 to 2020. Although MiLB clubs have resumed play, they will continue to lose money throughout the season. 2021 and will remain exposed to a serious financial risk “, the Rockhounds plead. “Urgent action is needed to preserve MiLB’s vital contribution to local economies across the country, which includes not only stimulating income and economic growth, but also acting as community pillars. “

Notebook: What’s in a name?

Team name of note this week: Rocket City Trash Pandas from Madison, Alabama.

The Double-A branch of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim dates back to 1997 when it was launched as Mobile (Alabama) BayBears and played there until late 2019 as a branch of the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks before signing with the Angels in 2017.

The Baybears were sold to a California group in 2017, have plans to move to Madison after the 2019 season and open in 2020 in their new location. But with the COVID shutdown, that restart has been delayed until this season.

The Trash Pandas media guide has two pages up front devoted to the unique name, citing the team’s proximity to nearby Huntsville, which is known for several aerospace-related companies, as well as the Marshall Space Flight Center. from NASA.

As for Trash Pandas, a slang term for raccoons, the media guide argues that the name is a tribute to the “determination and ingenuity of the raccoons” that apparently populate the area at a high rate.

The name was also the first choice among fans who chose it in a 2018 poll that drew more than 28,000 responses. He beat the Army Ants, Comet Jockeys and Glo Worms, among others.

The Trash Pandas are strengthening their connection to the space age in several promotions, including a Top Gun t-shirt giveaway, a space-themed Jersey party, and a sprocket mascot bobblehead giveaway, including the appeal favorite is “To The Moon!” “

Joe Strupp is an award-winning journalist with 30 years of experience covering education and Monmouth County for and Asbury Park Press. He’s also a die-hard Yankees fan when he’s not watching the wonderful minor leagues.



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