Just weeks after it was invited to join a higher classification that means a much longer playing season, the Hillsboro Hops minor league baseball team now appears set for a delayed start to the year.
The Hops are expected to become the Arizona Diamondbacks' Class-A Advanced team for the 2021 season and beyond, although the particulars of the arrangement are still being ironed out. That means a 132-game season, up from the 76 the Hops have played every year as part of a short-season classification that no longer exists as the minor leagues have been restructured.
However, national publication Baseball America reported Tuesday, Jan. 5, that the Class-A and Class-AA seasons are expected to start late due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the report, MLB has already notified the affected teams, sending them a memorandum Monday, Jan. 4. That memo reportedly outlined this plan:
• Major league and Class-AAA players and personnel will complete their spring training first. Under an ideal scenario, they will report to camps in Arizona and Florida next month and wrap up spring training by late March before beginning their seasons in early April.
• Only after the higher-level players have finished spring training and left camp will MLB organizations be permitted to bring in players and personnel assigned to their lower-level minor league teams. Again, in the ideal scenario of spring training beginning on time, that would mean most minor leaguers wouldn't report until late March or early April.
• The Class-A and Class-AA seasons would then likely begin in early May, or after three or four weeks of spring training for those levels. Teams have also been instructed to prepare for the season to run as late as October, rather than being truncated by several weeks, according to Baseball America.
• Minor league playoffs will likely not be held in 2021 in order to accommodate more regular-season games in September and possibly October, the report adds.
The purpose of staggering the spring training dates is to reduce the number of people sharing the spring training complexes in Arizona and Florida at the same time, Baseball America says. The delayed start to the season is a consequence of that.
It remains unclear whether the pandemic will have eased enough by May for the Hops to play in front of fans. Washington County remains under an "extreme risk" classification for coronavirus spread, according to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority.
Professional sports teams in Portland, including the Timbers and the Trail Blazers, have played during the pandemic with no fans in attendance. That's a dicier proposition for the Hops, who lack those teams' large television audiences. Their season, along with the rest of minor league baseball, was canceled altogether in 2020.
The Hops last took the field on Sept. 11, 2019, when they won the deciding game of the Northwest League Championships over the Tri-City Dust Devils in Pasco, Washington.
Reached for comment, Hops team president and general manager K.L. Wombacher declined to comment on the details of the 2021 season.
The Hops have been affiliated with the Diamondbacks since before their move to Hillsboro in 2013. They formerly played in Yakima, Washington, as the Yakima Bears.
Wade Evanson contributed to this report.
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