GREAT FALLS – Just more than a month ago, the prospect of a Great Falls Voyagers baseball season in 2021 was in doubt due to minor league contraction talks with Major League Baseball.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic already delaying the start of the MLB season, the 2020 Pioneer League season is facing an uncertain future, as well, as the Voyagers' staff deals with a new reality, which comes with new challenges.
“We’re a non-essential business, so our office is closed,” Voyagers general manager Scott Reasoner said. “But we’re still getting ready for the upcoming season. MLB and MiLB are in a permanent pause, so everyone is working to try and figure out when we can get started.”
While opening day has been pushed back for the big leagues, the Pioneer League season doesn’t open its season until June 25, giving the Voyagers the luxury of time before games are affected.
“That puts us in a pretty nice position to hopefully get started on time,” Reasoner said. “Our thoughts are with those affected more directly by the outbreak. And we hope we can bring some fun, relief, and a community gathering place again that everyone sorely misses”
Minor league teams take their cues from the major leagues, so until professional baseball starts in the bigs, the Voyagers are in a holding pattern.
“Right now we’re scheduled to start on time,” Reasoner said. “But we’re following the lead of our partners in Minor League and Major League Baseball. There’s a chain. MLB will have to figure things out, then high level minor leagues before we can start.”
There have been several proposals floated and reported for starting the MLB season -- from playing games without fans to holding the entire season in one state at spring training facilities. But those won’t work in the minors.
“Minor League Baseball is a whole different animal than MLB,” Reasoner said. “We don’t put Voyagers games on TV and make millions of dollars. We rely 100 percent on fans and the community. So, we really hope to get to a point where fans can come back to the ballpark.”
In the meantime, Voyagers fans can find a welcome distraction online. Each Pioneer League team has released an all-time roster for its franchise and is facing off in a bracket called the Pioneer Classic, contested with a week-long fan vote. The Great Falls squad features legendary names like Pedro Martinez, Joe McGinnity, Bobby Cox and Joe Tinker.
“We’re the only team sporting four Hall of Famers,” Reasoner said. “It’s fun to see the collection of talent over the years that have come through Great Falls and played pro baseball in our market.”
To vote in the Pioneer Classic visit the PBL website. Voting started on Tuesday, each division's semifinal matchup is set for Wednesday and the championship will be decided on Friday.