SIOUX CITY — For Sioux City Explorers manager Steve Montgomery, this is the first summer he won't be wearing a uniform in almost 20 years. For Explorers director of baseball and stadium operations Boyd Pitkin, it's been about 50 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced both of them to have a summer away from baseball.
On Friday, while the Explorers called it a postponement of their 2020 season, it essentially canceled the 2020 campaign for the American Association organization.
"It's obviously disappointing. From the ownership on down, it's disappointing," Montgomery said. "It's heartbreaking, for the owner and all the way down to the players. I am having to deliver bad news to players right now. I fully support (owner) John (Roost), (president) Matt (Adamski), Boyd, Connor (Ryan), the full-time employees. I am very proud to come up there every summer.
"It's disheartening but at the same time, I support this decision. At no time am I disappointed with my organization."
The decision comes a season after the Explorers played for the American Association championship, finishing as the runner-up to the St. Paul Saints, who will be playing this season as one of six American Association teams that will go on with a 60-game campaign.
In a press release, Roost said: “Not getting together this summer at the ballpark to enjoy the game we so dearly love will be disappointing to say the least. Everyone in the organization truly looks forward to putting together a great season and making a run for a championship. We know that our baseball season isn’t just a series of games; it is America’s Pastime and a passion that occupies valuable space in the hearts of all members of the Explorers family.”
It was a decision the organization didn't come to lightly.
Back in April, the American Association decided to postpone the start of the season to July but with no exact start date besides sometime in early July. Since then, the owners of the 12 American Association teams have had weekly conference calls to assess the possibilities of having a season and which organizations could participate. Teams had to factor in how open their states were and their own countries, as was the case for the Winnipeg Goldeneyes in Canada.
Roost and the rest of the X's front office staff held out as long as they could. But stadiums in Iowa are not allowed to be filled to its maximum capacity yet, per a directive from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. The coronavirus is still a concern, which is what caused the American Association season to be postponed in the first place.
"With everything we've been dealing with as an organization and as a society, it was in the best interest, not just the organization, but for the fans, players and the front office, to not have a season," Pitkin said. "(The coronavirus) did play a big role. At a time right now, it's a worrisome situation. We did not come to this decision lightly. Steve, myself, pitching coach Bobby Post, John, we all wanted to play but this is in the best interest of the organization.
"There was a lot of stuff in the stadium we would need to do for our staff and our fans. Just a lot of things had to go right for us to play."
However, when things shifted in the wrong direction, it was a quick decision. Roost held out on this decision for awhile. Pitkin said the decision was at 50/50 for weeks but the decision tilted in the wrong way recently.
"Unfortunately, it went into the 50 where we are not playing. It's okay. We will be back strong and ready to go for 2021," Pitkin said. "John made the decision (Friday) during the meeting that we would not be playing. We held out as long as we could to get as much information as possible. Based on the info we have from the local government and Siouxland, that's when he made the decision to postpone the 2020 season.
"I would like to thank our fans and sponsors as they stuck with us as long as they could. They are a vital part of the organization and I hope we will be seeing them in 2021."
The press release went out at 4:25 p.m. Friday. Montgomery found out about the decision a couple of hours before that.
"I think my owner did what is in the best interest for Sioux City, the community, the host families, everything. He's been very supportive and I think it's a good decision for him," Montgomery said. "We are looking at 2021 now. I don't think the goals change and we are going to build a roster that all of us from Sioux City will be proud of."
Montgomery said he plans to be back for the 2021 season and the X's have had plenty of success under his watch. Since 2015, the Explorers have had four winning seasons with him and last season was the organization's second trip to the championship series with Montgomery at the helm.
The Cleburne Railroaders, the Gary Southshore RailCatss, the Kansas City T-Bones, the Lincoln Saltdogs and the Texas AirHogs are the other five American Association teams who also decided to suspend operations for 2020.
The Chicago Dogs, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, the Winnipeg Goldeneyes, the Milwaukee Milkmen, the Saints and the Sioux Falls Canaries will all continue with a 2020 American Association season that consists of a 60-game season starting on Friday, July 3.
The American Association will begin the season operating out of three locations with games hosted by the RedHawks, the Milkmen and the Canaries. Each team will play 42 of their 60 games in their hub to limit travel. Fans are also planned to be in attendance.
"It's just your competitive nature to get out there and want to play," Pitkin said. "You see other teams out there, you want to get out there. That's on a selfish standpoint. On a non-selfish standpoint, you look at the big picture and that's how the decision was made."
A draft of players from non-participating American Association clubs will happen to allow the best possible talent available to play this season. The Explorers had 24 players signed for the 2020 season.
"We have some very loyal players. They were all looking forward to putting that uniform on," Montgomery said. "There could be an opportunity to play in another city through the draft. Whether they want to go or not is up to them. We would retain the rights for the following season."
Montgomery will now spend the summer with his family in Tampa Bay, Florida. The 46-year-old has been married for 19 years and the couple has two kids, a son who is 16 and a daughter who is 12. It will be the first time Montgomery has gotten to spend a full summer with his family.
"I am going to take advantage of that," Montgomery said. "I've been working with my son over the last four months. He's a baseball player and is talented and I am taking advantage of this. I am probably going to coach his team. I have the chance to spend 18 months with them and I need to take advantage of that."
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