Collegiate summer baseball has been in quite a pickle this year. The situation has spurred some teams and leagues to be creative in altering league formats.
The West Coast League’s (WCL) Portland Pickles are the latest to form a ‘pod’ league. Along with the West Linn Knights and Gresham GreyWolves the Wild Wild West League (WWWL) will be run by the Pickles and their lower level affiliate the Portland Gherkins.
“It’s a very interesting model that solves a lot of expense issues that are heavy right now,” Pickles President Alan Miller said. “Do I think it will replace the other leagues? No, but I think it could augment other leagues to give additional opportunities to play.”
The pod format has appeared this summer as a solution for getting on the diamond with many summer collegiate leagues canceled. The Northwoods, Palm Spring Collegiate, and Cascade Collegiate Leagues are among the pod leagues being held across the country this summer.
Whether these pod leagues remain in summer collegiate baseball in future summers is uncertain. For leagues such as the Northwoods and WCL that pride themselves on having big crowds at home ballparks this format is not profitable in a typical season. However, for purely developmental leagues, a pod format may offer a viable financial incentive for them in the future.
The key element of the pod format is playing all games at one location so as to centralize players and remove travel. This both increases the health and safety of players and dramatically reduces cost. In the WWWL’s case all players will be Portland area residents. Host families will likely not be used.
“We had a desire to play baseball this summer,” Miller said. “We weren’t willing to quit on baseball for our players, front office and most importantly all of our amazing supporting fans.”
After the West Coast League cancelled their season two weeks ago the Pickles announced their pod league for the 2020 summer. The Pickles own both the Gherkins, founded last year, and the GreyWolves who played in the Portland suburb of Gresham as a WCL member in 2016 and 2017.
The West Linn Knights, located in another Portland suburb, are partnering with the Pickles for their inaugural season. The pod league format will force the teams to fill their rosters with local talent, something Portland has in abundance.
“The Portland area is a mecca of baseball talent,” Miller said. “We really have too many players who want to participate. I’m excited to watch the talent level.”
The Pickles have announced multiple players to be on their roster including University of Michigan freshman All-American pitcher Willie Weiss and a 2019 WCL player of the week Jon Jensen of UC Irvine.
Safety and health must also be controlled in a pod format even without travel.
“The safety plan has been something we have been working on since March,” Miller said. “We’ve been altering it every week as conditions change. We have a very robust safety plan.”
The plan includes daily medical screenings. When arriving at the ballpark all players and staff will be tested for the Covid-19 virus and antibodies. That host ballpark is uncertain.
“We can’t be saying where we are playing at this point,” Miller said. “We don’t want any crowds gathering that cause safety concerns. Additionally, we don’t want us to get locked into anything.”
Portland’s Multnomah County will move to phase one of their reopening process on Friday. All surrounding suburban counties are already in phase one but based on Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s order this week they will now move to reopen at Multnomah County’s pace. Phase two will permit sports to be played.
Games will be played without fans as has been the case with pod leagues across the country. The season will start in July and be four to five weeks.
“Baseball players made commitments to us that they want to play this summer and I think we owe it to them, our sponsors and everyone to do everything in our power to put on games the best we can,” Miller said. “Everybody just wants something to gather around, have hope and participate in their community.”
With the Pickles' Wild Wild West League taking on a pod format baseball appears plausible this summer in the Rose City.