It was said it couldn’t be done, but 56 games and 53 days later, the pop-up Constellation Energy League is in the books.
For the record, Team Skeeters managed by Pete Incaviglia is the league champion with a 17-11 record. Each of the four teams in the league played 28 games with 56 total games being played at Constellation Field in Sugar Land. The concept for the league was first pitched by former Major League all-star Roger “Rocket” Clemens and the ownership and front office of the Sugar Land Skeeters carried it to fruition. The games were played from July 10 to Aug. 30, including double headers every Saturday and Sunday.
“It was a great season,” said Skeeters President Christopher Hill. “It was a season that a lot of people didn’t think would see the end. And now that we’re at the end I’m proud of the front office’s ability to put this together. We have a heck of a crew that has been working nonstop to keep these games going, from the grounds crew to the front office to the folks selling hot dogs, the doctors, so it’s been a really fantastic effort by everyone to keep this going.”
Seven players from the league had their contracts purchased by Major League teams with two of them getting playing time in.
“With all the games played and all the players that have actually got plucked out of our league to rosters is a win-win all the way around,” said Team Texas manager Koby Clemens. “For the fans to be able to be here and getting be a part of this is a win all the way around, a huge win.”
Team Texas featured the Clemens family with Koby managing, his father Roger assisting, and his brothers Kody and Kacy playing. Kody was honored Saturday night as the team MVP.
“We were very fortunate to be out here to get to play all these games, especially with what’s going on with COVID and games getting shut down at the Major League level,” Koby said.
“It was a lot of fun and being able to come to the ballpark and learn something every day was my goal and I feel like I accomplished that,” said Team Texas pitcher Jared Lakind.
He said he benefitted from being able to learn from Roger Clemens while also being able to pass on his knowledge to younger players.
“Just being able to play in a pop-up league and have guys around the area play together … it helped me to help some of the younger guys out,” he said.
Longtime Skeeters player Anthony Giansanti was supposed to be playing ball in Mexico this year but got sent home after one day due to COVID-19 shutting down the league.
“At least I’m playing and I’m blessed to be part of this league when a lot of guys are at home wishing they were playing, so obviously I’m grateful for this opportunity and I think the league is well done,” he said.
He called the league “a ray of hope” for the players and credited the trainers and medical staff for helping keep them healthy and safe.
“I can’t really say enough about how we executed what seemed to be an impossible thing,” he said.
Keeping four teams going under strict pandemic regulations was a challenge for everyone involved.
“The fact that we got through the season and we kept COVID under wraps and we got to play 56 games says a lot about everybody that put time in to make this happen,” Incaviglia said.
He said his team learned quickly how to adjust to the protocols set by the league, which were based off of the MLB rules.
“It’s a lot different wearing masks and sanitizing and going from the ballpark to the hotel; it’s just different so you’ve got to try and keep guys engaged and give them a little structure and keep them thinking about baseball instead of all the horrible things going on in the world right now,” Incaviglia said.
Sugar Land Lightning Sloths manager Greg Swindell said he was pleased with the way the season went.
“You come in with really no expectations because it’s something that’s never been done before but I think the Sugar Land Skeeters did a great job of putting it together and as far as the player personnel, they set out what they wanted to do, play baseball in front of fans, and to continue to grow as an athlete and a baseball player and fortunately for some they got to move on and it was a great situation for those guys. Just to play the game and enjoy the competition I think it was a really fun, fun league,” he said.
“It was great. It was great that the Skeeters put this on for the players,” said Dave Eiland, manager of Eastern Reyes del Tigre. “This was all about the players; all about them showcasing their talents to the guys that are unaffiliated and for the affiliated guys to keep their skills sharp and work on their game so everybody can showcase their talents. And last but not least, it is giving fans in this area some live baseball to come and watch.”
Ford Proctor, one of Eiland’s players, was named both team and league MVP.
“It was a great experience for me,” Proctor said. “During all this stuff with COVID and not being able to play the normal season, just being able to get game action was huge. For a baseball player that’s the best thing for you. Being able to play, especially since I’m from around here, so this is just a great opportunity for me.”
Dealing with a pandemic that threatened to shut everything down each day was a challenge the league overcame. Everyone had to follow the protocols, including wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding things that could lead to someone contracting the virus.
“You got used to it,” Swindell said. “After a week or so you stumbled a couple times, but you caught yourself and that’s another thing for Sugar Land, the Skeeters, we had one positive test in five weeks, so hat’s off to them and to the players and coaches for following through with everything.”
Owner Bob Zlotnik gave a lot of credit to Memorial Hermann, their medical provider, for guiding the league through testing and all the protocols they needed to follow.
“We could have had a big outbreak and we had none,” Zlotnik said.
“We had a couple positive tests when we first started testing but then we had no other positive tests,” he noted.
Hill, the league president, said he learned that people needed to have something normal to enjoy during the pandemic.
“We learned that people need baseball, they need outlets, they need to have other things to do other than watching the latest series on Netflix,” he said. “It’s a community and people were really missing their community and it was great to be able to bring people back together and hopefully give people an outlet to have a good time and a sense of normalcy.”
“It’s something we felt was good for the community,” Zlotnik said.
He said only time will tell what will happen with the pandemic between now and next season.
“Now we need to let everything settle down and see what happens with the pandemic,” he said. “We may do this again next year, but I prefer to get back to the Atlantic League.”
The league announced the MVPs for each team and the league. They are: Kody Clemens (Texas), Dustin Peterson (Skeeters), Jamie Westbrook (Lightning Sloths) and Ford Proctor (league and Reyes del Tigre).
Moving on up
Across the last two months, seven players made their way from the Constellation Energy League to the Major Leagues. They are: RHP Chase De Jong (Houston Astros), LHP Matt Dermody (Chicago Cubs), RHP Brett Eibner (Miami Marlins), RHP Fernando Rodney (Astros), and LHP Zac Rosscup (Colorado Rockies). Catcher Brett Sullivan was recalled to the Tampa Bay Rays and catcher Cameron Rupp returned to the Cleveland Indians.