Last Wednesday, the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League announced they will break from the league and host their own four-team professional league at Constellation Field from July 3-Aug. 23. Opening Day for the Atlantic League was originally scheduled for April 30, but has been delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s imperative that we continue to serve our role in the community as a family-friendly entertainment venue,” Skeeters owner Kevin Zlotnik said in a news release. “Now more than ever we realize how important that role is.”
Team president Christopher Hill said former MLB star Roger Clemens – a Houstonian who briefly pitched for Sugar Land in 2012 – first pitched the idea when he was working out at Constellation Field several months ago. The Skeeters organization is turning the idea into action in an attempt to generate revenue during what has so far been a lost 2020 season.
The Skeeters said each team in the new league will consist of former major Leaguers and an assortment of professional players who’ve appeared at affiliated minor league levels as well as those from independent leagues. Players will be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week as well as prior to their arrival in Sugar Land, according to the Skeeters.
“We’re a baseball team, so trying to figure out how we can play in this environment is of the utmost importance,” Hill said.
Initially, Hill said the idea did not seem feasible, because it would have required many players to be released from their contracts with Major League Baseball organizations. Just a few weeks ago, however, he said that obstacle was largely removed.
More than 1,000 minor leaguers have recently been released from their contracts as part of MLB’s plan to reduce affiliated minor league baseball from 160 teams to 120 beginning in the 2021 season.
“Given the unfortunate releases of hundreds of minor league players over the last few weeks, we realized there was a major need for a league like this,” Zlotnik said.
The Skeeters are gathering a pool of players who are set to be drafted by the managers of the new league’s teams prior to their arrival. Sugar Land manager Pete Incaviglia has committed to managing one team in the league, while Clemens and his son Koby – who spent parts of the 2012-14 seasons with the Skeeters – have agreed to manager another. The other two managers have yet to be determined.
“That opened up the door,” Hill said. “…There were multiple scenarios over the last several months that have presented themselves, and we were always looking at those options. When this one started, day by day it seemed like a better opportunity for the players.”
Seven games will be played at Constellation Field each week for a total of 28 games per team. According to a news release from the Skeeters, single games are anticipated to be played on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with doubleheaders scheduled most Saturdays and Sundays.
“I’m excited to be a part of this and I think the Zlotniks and the Skeeters organization are providing a great opportunity for these younger players to keep their skill sets sharp,” Roger Clemens said.
Creating their own league disrupts the Skeeters’ affiliation with the Atlantic League, at least for 2020. According to a report from Lancaster Online, an emergency meeting of Atlantic League directors Thursday night determined that even if the league resumes play with its six other teams, Sugar Land will not be part of it.
Atlantic League President Rick White said a decision on playing is expected this week. Hill declined to comment on the league’s decision.
“Wednesday’s announcement by the Sugar Land Skeeters demonstrates the ongoing efforts to provide baseball in each ALPB community. The state of Texas currently permits gatherings up to 50 percent of a sports venue’s capacity, unlike the mandates in other ALPB states,” White said in a statement released Friday. “Nevertheless, the other ALPB clubs continue to make every effort to play the 2020 championship season while constantly monitoring COVID-19 developments in their states and counties.”
Zlotnik said the four-team league presents an opportunity for the Skeeters to do what they do best for aspiring players – even during uncertain times presented by COVID-19.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on being an organization that gives players another chance,” he said.
Tickets for the games are not yet on sale and an announcement will be made once they are available. For updates on the league, visit sugarlandskeeters.com or follow the team’s social media pages.