Baseball is Finally Back at Akron's Canal Park After Canceled 2020 Season
Cleveland’s Double-A team, the Akron RubberDucks, return to the field this week for their first games at Canal Park since 2019.
The minor leagues didn’t play at all last year because of the pandemic. WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto was at Spring Training in Goodyear, Ariz., last March when baseball was shut down.
"The assumption was it would be a month or two months...and it was nothing. So for a lot of them, they haven't played any sort of real baseball that counts since September of 2019," Pluto said.
The big leagues returned to the field last July and was able to bring in some television and advertising revenue. But for minor league owners like Akron's Ken Babby, it was a complete loss.
"On top of that, people who bought season tickets and people who bought advertising, [the team] probably had to refund some of that," he said.
A boon to the city
And Pluto says not only did the team suffer, but the city of Akron lost out on a big economic driver. There are 70 games played downtown each season. And he says Canal Park was a good investment for Akron.
"The stadiums aren't outrageously expensive. They have done a lot of upgrades at Canal Park and now they want to do some more. For that part of Akron, this is a good deal to have baseball back," Pluto said.
Normally you don't get so many No. 1 picks at Akron at the same time. It's a good deal for RubberDucks fans and great to have something on Main Street in Akron."
Not only were there no games last season, but most of the staff was laid off. So, getting the league started again has a ripple effect. Pluto also thinks back to when Cleveland's baseball team returned to action in July and had games on TV.
"Does it fix the pandemic? No. But does it give us a couple of hours away from those stats on the virus? Yes. It's part of the fabric of a society that mentally has been beaten up," Pluto said.
Akron has a roster full of some of Cleveland's most promising young talent. MLB.com has a list of the team's top prospects.
Tyler Freeman is No. 2 overall.
"He's a shortstop who I think will end up being the Indians' future second baseman. He can really hit and fans will like him; he'll be fun to watch," Pluto said.
The No. 3 overall prospect is Bo Naylor, a catcher and brother to Cleveland starting outfielder, Josh Naylor. Bo, drafted in 2018, is viewed by many as the team's future backstop.
Will Benson, a 2016 first round draft pick, also will open the season in Akron.
"He used to be high on prospect lists and he has struggled. He looks like he should be able to play. He's 6-foot-4 and athletic," Pluto says, noting Benson was even offered a basketball scholarship to Duke out of high school.
Cleveland's top prospect is third baseman Nolan Jones, who will start in AAA Columbus.
"Normally you don't get so many No. 1 picks at Akron at the same time. It's a good deal for RubberDucks fans and great to have something on Main Street in Akron."
During May, The RubberDucks have been permitted to allow fans at 47% capacity to allow for social distancing in the stands and on the concourse. That's about 3,500 fans per game. The stadium is divided into pods of two, four, six or eight people. Masks will be required at all times, except for when fans are eating or drinking.