I was overcome with an incredible feeling of gratitude Saturday night.
It was my last time at Constellation Field in Sugar Land for the final weekend of the pop-up Constellation Energy League. For two months we have been able to enjoy live, professional baseball while the rest of the country’s baseball leagues, aside from Major League Baseball, are shut down for the coronavirus pandemic. Even though MLB is operating a shortened season, it is doing so without fans in the stands.
What the Sugar Land Skeeters have given us with this impromptu four-team league is high-quality baseball entertainment and action that will forever live as one of the most unique events in professional baseball history. I spent quite a bit of time Friday and Saturday interviewing all four managers, a few players, and front office people for their perspective on how the league went.
What I came away with was a deep appreciation for the great sacrifice so many were willing to make against great odds so they could play and we could enjoy this great game. It begins with the Zlotnik family (Bob, Marcie, and their son Kevin), who dug deep into their pockets to fund the league. Without their generosity, none of this happens. Credit must also be given to Roger “Rocket” Clemens for pitching this crazy idea in the first place.
One thing many fans did not see was the effort put forth by the front office, grounds crew, concession stand, and other workers. In a typical season the Skeeters play 70 home games from late April through September. The Constellation Energy League featured 56 games played across 53 days. Every Saturday and Sunday had a double header, which makes for a very long day for those working the games.
On those double header days, the teams had to share clubhouses without being in them at the same time. Clubbies, who doubled as batboys, had short turnaround time to prep between games. The players had to adhere to very strict health and safety guidelines, including wearing masks when not playing, weekly COVID-19 checks, and living a very isolated lifestyle in order to maintain social distancing.
The fans had to do their part as well. Social distancing and hand sanitizing were strongly encouraged, and face coverings were required at all places in Constellation Field except when seated in the stands. For the fans who attended, the desire to watch live baseball games was worth the inconvenience. And they were not disappointed. The players were a mix of former Major Leaguers, Minor Leaguers, and top prospects.
The quality of play was comparable to Triple A ball or even the Majors. I’d pit an all-star team from this league in the Majors any day. In fact, the big league bought out about a half-dozen player contracts with two players so far getting playing time in the MLB (Chase De Jong with the Astros and Brett Eibner with the Marlins). Every player I spoke with said he was grateful for the chance to play and improve skills while their Minor League counterparts spent the summer without competition.
I must also make special note of team President Chris Hill and General Manager Tyler Stamm who went to bat for this league against great odds from state, county, city, and health officials. The league was starting up just as the pandemic was closing things down a second time and a lot of red tape had to quickly be overcome. Even then there were plenty of naysayers who said the league and the season could not be done. It was completed, and in spectacular fashion.
Every game was played, even rained out make-up games. There were daily specials, weekend giveaways, pet nights, special honors nights, and fireworks every Friday night. The person who plays the mascot did all three – Swatson, Rally Sloth, and the Trash Monster. That alone was a fur-ious effort!
The whole league was very professionally done and a lot of fun. Leaving on Saturday reminded me a lot of the last day of school when you say so long to your friends for the summer. We don’t know what the future holds for the independent baseball team. We don’t know if or when we’ll cross paths with players, managers, and fans in the stands again. We do know what we had this summer and it was worth every minute. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in making it happen!