The Frontier League was forced to suspend the 2020 season on June 24th. The longest running independent baseball league in the United States was looking at a banner year. The recent expansion with the Can-Am League in the offseason was not only going to add five new teams to the league but was also going to expand the league into another country. The expansion was going to lead to a new level of exposure for the league that is known more as a midwestern league. The Gateway Grizzlies were going to celebrate their 20th season as a part of the Frontier League. Their manager Phil Warren was going to enter his 14th season with the organization. He was excited to get a chance to see arguably the most talented collection of coaches and players come together during the tenure of the season. He won’t get that chance. I got a chance to talk with him about that and what he thinks about the future of baseball.
With the addition of an unlikely ally the upcoming season was going to have a new look and a new voice helping to guide the Grizzlies. Cross town rivals the River City Rascals closed operations after winning the Frontier League Championship in 2019. Long time Rascal’s skipper Steve Brook signed on to work alongside Warren bringing along a load of talent from the championship squad.
“We anticipated several “hard” releases that would have to be made before opening day, which means we had done a great job this off-season.” -Grizzlies Manager, Phil Warren
Warren will be looking at the first season since he was in 8th grade that baseball wasn’t his main priority. While he is excited for the chance to fish as much as he would like and go on vacation with his family the question of “what if” is going to be on his mind and the minds of the fanbase.
“We now have turned our attention to building on the assembled 2020 roster to ensure that 2021 has the same outlook. The work never stops if you want to ensure a successful future.”
While the coaching staff will work to replenish the roster, there will be plenty of options available in the open market. With professional teams continuing to cut costs at different minor league levels the access of talent will be available. Warren spoke about the continued issues between Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association.
“In terms of the future between the players and the owners, this isn’t anything new. Money will always be the driving force. I think we are simply getting a taste of what’s to come by 2022, they are able to hide the real issues under the smoke screen of COVID-19. Ultimately the fans are the ones that will suffer.”
Unlike the MLB season the Frontier League season was not able to make the finances work heading into 2020. The loss of nearly three months of income along with the limitations of event hosting forced the hand of the ownership groups across the league. Most teams have found ways to supplement their facilities with high school, littel league and other events that can bring in some income but the loss of the season could lead to a lot of different issues down the line for every organization.
The Frontier League will plan to be back in 2021. The question will be what players and staff will return for most of these organizations. With a large portion of the staff being forced to be furloughed alot of these talented employees and players could find themselves working in either a different organization or changing their careers completely. The future is uncertain for the entire league but the Gateway Grizzlies and Phil Warren still see a future in the smallest town in the United States with a professional baseball team in Sauget, Illinois.
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