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Following minor league baseball’s constriction last year and a 2020 without revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal is proposing roughly $500 million in federal assistance for the sport.
“Minor league baseball is in peril,” Blumenthal said Monday at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. “These teams have not played since September, 2019. ... The teams have struggled. Many of them are on the verge of bankruptcy. We need to come to their aide. That’s why I am leading a congressional effort. We did it for restaurants, theater, live music. Baseball deserves it as much.”
Blumenthal said the fund “ought to be flexible,” and compared it to the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Program, created to provide restaurants and bars with compensation for their reduced revenues of the past year. He cited the importance of minor league baseball to the communities, restaurants and local economies of the cities which they reside in.
“That program has been made flexible so [restaurants] can do repairs, buy inventory, supplies, food, literally almost anything they want to do — including payroll,” Blumenthal said. “It ought to be flexible to the max, provide discretion on the part of the teams as to how this money is used, and it ought to take account of the revenue lost. ... It ought to be targeted to the teams that need it the most and have the kind of following and loyalty that [the Yard Goats do].”
In 2020, Blumenthal proposed a resolution that called upon Major League Baseball to abandon its plans to eliminate a portion of minor league baseball teams. MLB eventually went through with its plans and cut 42 teams — including the Norwich Sea Unicorns, a Class A team. Norwich, along with the New Britain Bees, now compete in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.
Blumenthal said he believes the new proposal would likely have bipartisan support.
“It is a fraction of what we spent on other, less-vital factors of our economy,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve talked to colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and there’s nothing that divides us about minor league baseball. We’ve got to come together and make a special effort to sustain these fields of dreams because they not only unite us across party lines, but they unite us as a country.
“Where have you every found Republicans and Democrats fighting in a ballpark?”
Yard Goats president Tim Restall said events of the past year have forced the club to pivot in many different directions to stay afloat.
“When there’s no baseball, there’s no fans in the stands, there’s no sponsorships, tickets, merchandise,” Restall said. “It was a challenging year. This is a relief that comes as we get ready for opening day as we get back to normal.”
Hartford opens the season at Richmond on Tuesday and will play its home opener May 11 vs. the Portland Sea Dogs.
Shawn McFarland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.