Winnipeg Goldeyes lose rival, but need fans to return to play in 2021

The Winnipeg Goldeyes celebrate their 2017 American Association Championship victory. Russ Hobson / Global News

The league the Winnipeg Goldeyes play in, the American Association, will look a whole lot different next season.

The perennial powerhouse St. Paul Saints are leaving the league to join affiliated baseball as the new triple-A farm team for the Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins.

“When we started this, there was nobody who ever would have believed that somebody from independent baseball would become a triple-A franchise of Major League Baseball,” Goldeyes owner Sam Katz said on Thursday.

But the Saints are making the leap. After being the gold standard of independent league baseball for the past 28 years, the Saints are leaving the American Association behind.

Read more: Winnipeg Goldeyes’ league partners with Major League Baseball

“It’s great on them,” said Katz. “It made a lot of sense and when you look at the success of St. Paul, it’s kinda a win-win for everybody, plus I know that it was very difficult for them to do what they did, but it was an opportunity you just could not say no to. It doesn’t come along every day.”

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Katz believes that Saints ownership will return to the league at some point with a new team in a new city. And more changes could also be on the way for the 2021 season. Expansion for the American Association is a possibility after Major League Baseball overhauled their minor league system this off-season, leaving some cities behind.

“There is a lot of teams right now that I know that are speaking to the commissioner (Joshua) Schaub about becoming part of the American Association,” Katz said.

“So I guess every cloud does have a silver lining. We’ll see what happens down the road.”

Read more: Swing and a lease: Winnipeg Goldeyes stadium deal passes after last-minute city council motion

It’s now been more than 15 months since the Goldeyes last played a game at Shaw Park. And while Katz remains hopeful the border will re-open and fans will be able to return this summer, playing another season entirely on the road won’t be an option.

Katz says the club lost around a million dollars by not playing any home games in 2020.

“We couldn’t do that two years in a row,” said Katz. “I’m hoping things are different for 2021 and because we’re outdoors and because we can do social distancing, we’re hoping when the time comes, that we can work something out that makes sense for everybody — and above all is safe, because that’s priority number one.

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“We are going to look at every option to play baseball in a safe environment.”

Six teams opted not to play in 2020 due to the pandemic, but so far the league hasn’t issued a drop dead date for team’s to decide their fate for next season.

“Playing is definitely a necessity for survival there’s no question,” he said. “To be out of business for two and a half years, it’s just economically not viable.”

Click to play video: 'New lease deal for Goldeyes park' New lease deal for Goldeyes park
New lease deal for Goldeyes park – Oct 29, 2020

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