Duluth Huskies owner Michael Rosenzweig called 2020 the craziest year of his lifetime, and most people would probably agree.
“Is anything possible? Yes, anything is possible. I think we’ve all learned that this year,” Rosenzweig said Monday. “I hate to say anything because every 20 minutes it changes.”
One thing is certain: The Northwoods League on Monday announced a July 1 opening of another “pod” of five teams, including four in Minnesota, and the Duluth Huskies aren’t one of them.
Rosenzweig said he could not see opening with outdoor entertainment in Minnesota still limited to 250 people due to the coronavirus restrictions enacted by Governor Tim Walz.
“I can’t afford to lose that kind of money,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s expensive to play baseball in Duluth. Maybe some other teams can do it with 250 people, but we can’t. That’s not a good business model to follow. Not for us.”
The city is open to working with the Huskies should they return to action. Wade Stadium recently was opened up for rental, and Rosenzweig said the water at the old ballpark was finally turned on Monday. While there is cleanup to do, Wade Stadium could be ready to operate in a couple weeks. However, until that restriction is eased, it’s a moot point.
Rosenzweig said the Huskies couldn’t even open if the limit were increased to 500 fans. 1,000? Now, you’re talking.
The next possible start date for the Huskies would be July 15.
“And that would be it,” Rosenzweig said. “If we can’t be up and running by then, start getting ready for 2021.”
The Huskies would presumably join the Minnesota-Iowa pod that includes St. Cloud, Mankato, Willmar, Rochester and Waterloo, Iowa.
Rosenzweig put the chances of the Huskies playing this season at 50-50.
“We’re on the fence,” he said. “I wish I had the answers, but I don’t. I just don’t.”
Northwoods League chairman Dick Radatz Jr. said the league is hoping the current level for outdoor events increases as the season goes on.
“Even 50% capacity, optimism reigns,” Radatz said. “I think what is happening in Bismarck (N.D.), and will happen in some of our other pods, gives us hope for expanded capacity as the season moves on — 250 is better than nothing is sort of the common theme at the moment.”
St. Cloud Rox co-owner Scott Schreiner said with 2,200 seats at Joe Faber Field the team could accommodate 1,000 fans while still providing social distancing.
“There will be a lot of social distancing with only 250, that’s for sure,” Schreiner said. “It’s a huge gamble in terms of operating in the red each game you open. The gamble is we are hoping the 250 gets to a number that puts us in the black.”
Schreiner said without games, there’s no value for the team’s sponsors. And while there will be fewer fans in the stands, he hopes there will be more traffic on the team’s website and social media, more people listening to Rox radio broadcasts or watching streamed video broadcasts. He said it goes even beyond that.
“When we are playing games there is still value,” he said. “Our community needs us now more than ever to provide an escape from their everyday life, a nine-inning vacation, so to speak. We need to be able to provide that escape they have been yearning for.”
While these restrictions have put sports in a tough spot, Rosenzweig said he respects the governor’s orders.
Rosenzweig said through all this craziness of the past three or four months, he has never lost sight of what’s most important.
“First and foremost is the safety of our fans, and the safety of everyone involved,” Rosenzweig said. “I don’t want anyone to get sick. That’s the last thing I want. If we come back and play, it will be in a manner that is the safest way possible.”