Triple-A start delayed: Here's what it means for the Rochester Red Wings
Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that the start of the AAA minor league season would be pushed back by a month, to May 4.
The delay will help baseball implement COVID-19 safety protocols, including the establishment of alternate training sites for minor league players who might be called up.
Officials hope the delay will help them avoid potential COVID outbreaks at the big league level, but it will have a significant impact on minor league teams like the Rochester Red Wings.
Opening on the road
The Wings are now scheduled to open their 2021 season on May 4 in Allentown, Pennsylvania against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. They'll spend the first two weeks of the season on the road before returning to Frontier Field for their home opener on Tuesday, May 18 against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
The opening homestand will feature 12 games in thirteen days. After six-games with the RailRiders, the Syracuse Mets will come to town for a six-game series starting May 25.
The games originally scheduled for April will not be made up, and the season will end on September 19. Playoff schedules have not yet been determined.
Start times for games haven't been announced yet, and the Red Wings say they'll announce plans for ticket sales and promotions in the next few weeks.
COVID protocols at Frontier Field
There is some uncertainty about what COVID restrictions will be in place on opening day, and of course, conditions could change.
Under current rules, New York state will allow sports arenas and other large entertainment venues to open at 10% capacity with mandatory COVID testing requirements and other coronavirus safety precautions. Venues must seek state Department of Health approval of individual reopening plans.
Frontier Field has a capacity of 13,500
"The Red Wings will continue to work closely with state and county departments of health to ensure a safe and healthy return to play for the fans," the team said in a statement last month. "The Wings will also be working closely with Major League Baseball regarding their health and safety protocols for players, staff, and fans."
Other changes for 2021
With the delay, Triple-A teams are now scheduled to play a 120 game season, unless there are further interruptions due to the pandemic.
To help address the challenges of COVID, two interesting new changes have been instituted for the 2021 seasons.
First, teams at the Triple-A level will play six-game series to help cut down on travel. Each team will be off on Mondays and play an opponent on six straight days, from Tuesday to Sunday. In the past, three-game series had been more typical.
Second, the Red Wings will play within a geographic bubble, only facing opponents from within the Northeast division of the newly named Triple-A East league. In addition to the Red Wings, those teams include the Buffalo Bisons, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Syracuse Mets and Worcester Red Sox, who have relocated this year after playing in Pawtucket since 1970.
The imbalanced schedule means the Wings will become very familiar with their closest rivals, with half of their games coming against Buffalo and Syracuse. They'll play 30 games against the Bisons and 30 against the Mets.
As of now, the full home schedule for the Red Wings is as follows:
- May 18-23 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
- May 25-30 Syracuse
- June 15-20 Buffalo
- June 22-27 Worcester
- July 6-11 Buffalo
- July 27-Aug.1 Lehigh Valley
- Aug. 3-8 Syracuse
- Aug. 17-22 Lehigh Valley
- Aug. 31-Sep. 5 Worcester
- Sep. 14-19 Buffalo
The pandemic forced the cancellation of the Red Wings' 2020 season, and a lot has changed since the Wings last took the field. (For the record, their last game was an 8-4 loss to Syracuse on Sep. 2, 2019)
This will be the Wings' first season under their new affiliation agreement with the Washington Nationals, and there will be a lot of new faces at the ballpark. Among them will be first-year manager Matthew LeCroy, a former big-league catcher who played 80 games for the Red Wings in 2007.
LeCroy’s staff will include pitching coach Michael Tejera, hitting coach Brian Daubach, athletic trainer Eric Montague and strength and conditioning coach Mike Warren.
The Red Wings had been affiliated with the Minnesota Twins since 2003.