YAKIMA, Wash. — On what would have been the originally scheduled Opening Day of the 2020 West Coast League season, the Yakima Valley Pippins reluctantly announce the cancellation of their season because of health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Yakima County.
“Safety of our fans, players and coaches, host families and staff are our top priority, and current conditions aren’t favorable for us to hold a season,” Pippins general manager Jeff Garretson said. The COVID infection numbers and the county’s slow progression through the state’s reopening guidelines also contributed to the decision, he said.
“The Pippins are committed to return in 2021 because sports bring us together with a sense of community. Baseball can remind us of the best things in life, especially during this current time of pandemic and social unrest,” Garretson continued. “Sports are a powerful force for equity for players and for fans, and we can’t wait to share that experience again at The Orchard next year.”
Garretson said team officials had been working on developing plans to safely reopen Yakima County Stadium with additional health and safety protocols and limited fan seating. But with gatherings limited to fewer than 50 people until Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening guidelines, the likelihood of getting to Phase 4 before many of the team’s players would have to prepare to return to college wouldn’t provide time for a viable season.
“We wouldn’t be able to provide the experience for our fans, our sponsors or our players that would meet our expectations,” Garretson said.
The West Coast League’s regular-season schedule was to end Aug. 9, with playoffs to follow.
Earlier this spring, the league’s two British Columbia teams (Victoria and Kelowna), two teams in Oregon (Bend and Corvallis) and one team in Washington (Bellingham) canceled their seasons because of state, provincial or local restrictions. Seven remaining teams — Portland, Port Angeles, Ridgefield, Cowlitz, Wenatchee, Walla Walla, and Yakima — were working on a shorter season that would have started in mid-July and run deeper into August.
But when Yakima County couldn’t advance to Phase 2 of reopening on time, it scuttled the Pippins’ hopes of salvaging a 2020 season. Walla Walla, Port Angeles, Ridgefield and Cowlitz also announced season cancellations today.
Despite the cancellation, Garretson remains hopeful for some events at The Orchard later this summer, and is excited about pivoting to the 2021 season:
• Once the county moves to Phase 3 of reopening, which would allow groups of up to 50, the Pippins still expect to hold youth baseball camps for ages 7-18.
“With high school, Little League and college seasons canceled throughout the area, we know players of all ages will want to keep improving their skills, and we expect our camps would help fill that need,” Garretson said.
• The Pippins coaching staff of Kyle Krustangel, Cash Ulrich and Kelly Fitzpatrick are expected to return for the 2021 season.
• Several local players who had signed to play for the Pippins in 2020 are expected to return for the 2021 season, including Regan Haas (Wapato; Gonzaga), Cort Dietrich (Selah; Montana State Univ. Billings) and Xander Orejudos (Ellensburg; Georgia Gwinnett). Two players whom Krustangel coaches during the spring at Yakima Valley College, Connor Coballes (Spokane) and Josh Davis (Bothell), also are expected to return, as are several other players.
• The Pippins will have a 32-game home schedule in 2021, up from 30 scheduled home games in 2020.
“Season ticket members with 2020 tickets will be able to roll over their tickets automatically to next year — and they’ll receive tickets to two additional games at no additional charge,” Garretson said. Season ticket memberships for new buyers will go on sale later this month, he added.
• Team officials already have begun contacting ticket buyers and sponsors about the canceled season, and options for moving purchases and sponsorship packages to next season.
“So far, ticket holders’ and sponsors’ reactions mirror ours — disappointment with no Pippins baseball this year, but excitement for next year,” Garretson said. “The overwhelming majority are rolling their investments forward into 2021, and I couldn’t be more humbled by the trust and faith we’ve been able to build with them over the past several seasons.”
• Earlier this offseason, the Pippins extended their lease of Yakima County Stadium with State Fair Park for another three years, Garretson said.
• The WCL today announced the 2021 league season will begin Friday, June 4, 2021. The Pippins will open at home that day, with the opponent to be announced when the league schedule is released this fall.
• The 12 current teams in the WCL will be joined next year by an expansion team in Naniamo, British Columbia, which joined the league earlier this spring.