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'One of Their Finest Moments': Playoff Baseball Returns to Akron After 2020 Shutdown

Photo of the Akron RubberDucks
Akron RubberDucks
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Akron RubberDucks
The RubberDucks clinched the playoff berth Sunday with a 5-4 victory at home vs. the Somerset Patriots.

Cleveland Indians Double-A affiliate Akron RubberDucks began their playoff run on Tuesday, beating the Bowie Baysox 5-1 in the first game of the Northeast Championship series.

It was a long road back to the playoffs after last year's season was entirely wiped out because of the coronavirus.

And the Ducks clinched the postseason in dramatic fashion on Sunday, with last year’s AL Cy Young award winner and Indians ace Shane Bieber on the mound, who is rehabbing his shoulder as he makes his way back to the Major Leagues.

He has not pitched in a big-league game since June 13 and allowed three runs on three hits over 3 1/3 innings.

Commentator Terry Pluto talked with RubberDucks owner Ken Babby about the team's success despite the uncertainty surrounding the season.

A season full of questions
After not playing so much as a game last season, the RubberDucks went into this season full of understandable questions and concerns.

"It really was one of their finest moments."
Terry Pluto

On top of already tough restrictions, Pluto says player turnover made the RubberDucks' season even more difficult.

"[Double-A] is like the big bus station in downtown Akron. People are coming in and going at all directions," he said.

Not only did Bieber and about eight other Indians Major League players rehab in Akron throughout this season, but the team went through 62 players in total through the year. For reference, Double-A teams must have an active roster size of 28 players.

"Even for the bus station, that's a lot," Pluto said.

The RubberDucks were also fortunate they didn't have to cancel any games because of COVID-19 concerns among players and staff.

"This isn't quite like the big leagues where you have the social distancing and the private jets. They're traveling on the bus, and they have roommates on the road," Pluto said.

The RubberDucks still managed to win 73 games this year and obtain the Northeast Division Title.

"It really was one of their finest moments," Pluto said.

"[This attendance] shows the heartbeat is still pretty strong for Minor League Baseball in Akron and elsewhere."
Terry Pluto

Looking forward
Many minor league teams began the season wondering how fans would respond after a year off. Babby said there were no season ticket sales, and there were questions about sponsors returning.

Despite constraints to begin the season, including a delayed start in May and seating capacity limited to 3,200, things began to open up as the season progressed.

Pluto said regular season attendance averaged 3,646 per game, ranking 6th out of 12 teams in the league. That's just below normal attendance.

As for next year and beyond, fans have a lot to look forward to. Not only will they get the chance to see their favorite Major League players rehab, but promising prospects such as George Valera and Konnor Pilkington should draw a lot of excitement as well.

The RubberDucks (73-46) will play the Bowie Baysox (73-47) on the road again on Wednesday. After that, they’ll return home to Canal Park Friday for Game 3 and play Games 4 and 5 Saturday and Sunday, if necessary.