SALT LAKE CITY — Steve Klauke should have been at the ballpark on April 9 to begin his 27th season as voice of the Salt Lake Bees when they were set to take on the El Paso Chihuahuas at Smith’s Ballpark for opening day.
Instead, as Klauke humorously put it in a Twitter video, he was sitting at his house with his Chihuahua, Holly.
The coronavirus pandemic pushed back the start of the minor league baseball season, along with the MLB season. Klauke can’t remember a time during his 27-year stint as Salt Lake announcer where the minor leagues hadn’t played games for this long, especially since minor league baseball continued play during the 1994 MLB strike and 1995 MLB lockout. The only Bees games, nonweather-related, that were scheduled to be played and didn’t were games after the deaths of Nick Adenhart and Tyler Skaggs, along with a game where the Portland Beavers were quarantined in their hotel in Reno, Nevada.
“As far as all of minor league baseball is concerned, nothing that I can remember off the top of my head, certainly not since I’ve been doing it,” Klauke said.
Bees president Marc Amicone, as he always does, was looking forward to opening day.
“I remember the disappointment. Opening day is such a fun time and, springtime is, a great time for blue skies and green grass and flowers to come out and those kinds of things,” Amicone said.
But, as disappointing as it is to not play baseball, shutting it down was the right thing to do.
“The big thing was, the health situation, we need to be sure that that’s all done right and follow the proper guidelines and information we’re given to make sure everybody’s healthy. If that means pushing back or delaying the baseball season, so be it. We need to be great citizens and stewards for our community and we’re hoping when it comes back, we believe that we’ll be one of the great healing situations because people want to get back out and do some things and get back to the ballpark,” Amicone said.
“Being at home all this time and not being in my office at the booth, the ballpark was a little strange, but for the most part, once opening day rolled around and it was a relatively nice day and all of that, that’s when it really, really hit me how disappointing it was. But I also know and knew at that time how it was something that had to be done,” Klauke said.
The silver lining in the season being delayed before play started was that, because baseball was shut down during spring training, players were not in Salt Lake at the time and didn’t have to be sent home.
“I think had we had players here and traveling and the midst of the season, it potentially could have been a much more difficult situation and possibly a more dangerous situation. So if that was going to happen before we had 16 teams in the Pacific Coast League and 160 teams throughout minor league baseball with players traveling all over the country, this is probably a better situation than they happened before players got into their cities,” Amicone said.
Currently, MLB is continuing to provide all minor leaguers signed to contracts with spring training per-diem — $400 per week — and will continue to receive health benefits through May 31. Additionally, players in the minors that have an MLB contract are covered under a separate plan by the MLB.
Even with no one in the ballpark, some of the Bees’ grounds crew — properly distancing, of course — is still making sure Smith’s Ballpark is kept up. They keep the field and the grounds outside the ballpark looking pristine.
“We’re keeping the stadium in shape so when they say we’re ready to go, then we’re going to be ready to go,” Amicone said.
Amicone is staying busy, meeting with officials and staff over Zoom, so as soon as the go-ahead is given to hold games, they’ll be ready.
“The kind of thing that we’re doing and obviously looking at, OK, how can we adjust some promotional events, but also some promotional opportunities to get people back to the ballpark and have them be excited to come and see a minor league baseball game,” Amicone said. “We talked so much about how this is such a great venue and such a great event with great baseball — the best players not in major league baseball and a lot of wonderful food options. Just a nice place to gather, but we want to make sure we can get people gathered at the right time. We’re preparing to flip the switch as soon as they will allow us to do that.”
You can watch past Bees games for free on MILB.tv and the team is sharing highlights and flashbacks on social media to keep fans engaged during the delay.
As for Klauke, he is keeping busy by walking — he says he has lost about 10 pounds from walking 10 miles a day — and staying in contact with various travel agents to find out refund and reschedule policies with different airlines and bus companies the Bees had booked for travel to road games in April.
“The sooner people stay home and do what they have to do, the sooner this goes by and the sooner we get baseball and other sports back,” Klauke said.