Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced it would not be providing minor league teams with affiliated players, effectively canceling the season.
At Toyota Field in Madison, the news meant that the Rocket City Trash Pandas debut will have to wait until next year.
"This is obviously an extremely difficult day for the Trash Pandas and everybody associated with the organization,” President and CEO Ralph Nelson said.
Nelson had unofficially known the team wouldn't play for a while, but said the news Tuesday still hurt.
The pandemic and delay of the MLB season left the team in an awkward situation. Having to switch focus from baseball to events and merchandising meant young athletes could use the field. It’s something Nelson already views as a silver lining.
"It's hard to believe, because it's so rough, but there's been a silver lining and to see young people enthusiastic on the field, it's a great thing,” he told WAAY 31.
Those athletes, who normally might not have access to the field, are loving every minute of it.
"This is a really nice field, love playing on it,” Sam Blyles, a player for the Naturals, said. “And we're gonna beat the next team we play on it, so it'll be nice."
Tuesday’s travel baseball tournament is just one example of Nelson’s switch in focus. With hosting events now a top priority, Nelson says he’s been able to keep a team that wasn’t designed to survive a year without baseball alive.
"We have only had to lay off three employees, here -- entry level employees. And we have not cut the salaries of any of our staff,” he said.
According to Nelson, out of 1,900 season ticket holders, only two have asked for refunds so far. He said that fans who keep their money with the team for next season will get an added value, “so they’ll be able to get more than they originally got.”
The 2021 Trash Pandas season will still be considered the team's first.
“We called it the inaugural mission and we’re looking forward to saying mission accomplished,” Nelson said.