Pandemic leaves major gap in summer sports schedule
AKRON Canal Park is typically at the epicenter of spring and summer sports fun for Summit County and surrounding areas.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to plague the United States, this summer will be an unfortunate exception to that rule.
Typically, summer would find the Akron RubberDucks in the midst of their Eastern League season and final preparations ramping up for the annual FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon and Team Relay – which have their finish line at Canal Park – with the races to come shortly after Labor Day.
Instead, recent decisions by Minor League Baseball and the Akron Marathon series will leave massive gaps in the summer sports schedule for the area.
“The news that we will not have RubberDucks baseball at Canal Park this summer is devastating,” RubberDucks general manager Jim Pfander said. “However, because of the immense value we place on the safety of our fans, players, staff and partners, we fully support the decision to cancel the season."
That decision was announced in a statement made by Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. O'Conner announced the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Major League Baseball set your attempt a 60-game season beginning later this month following abbreviated training camps in teams' home cities, the decision was made to cancel all minor league games.
It's a decision with myriad effects, from minor league players who won't be able to earn their normal income this summer or have a chance to advance through their respective minor league systems and possibly earn a promotion to the majors, to the scores of workers who staff games at venues such as Canal Park working concessions, taking tickets and maintaining the stadium.
The team's goal in the interim, while hosting some high school exhibition games and travel tournaments with limited crowds, is to keep some semblance of sports on Main Street even after the cancellation of the 71 scheduled RubberDucks home games.
"We are looking forward to the many socially-distanced and safe events that we planned as a contingency to continue to bring affordable family fun to our community while we wait for RubberDucks baseball in 2021," Pfander said. "Akron has always been resilient in the face of adversity, and we look forward to opening day next April.”
As for the marathon and associated races, race officials are following the lead of other such events and going virtual this year.
"The health and safety of our runners will always be the highest priority for the Akron Marathon. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon and Team Relay, and related race weekend events will be held virtually," race officials said on a statement."
The Akron Marathon staff conducted countless scenarios while working with the Summit County Public Health, City of Akron leaders and race partners to determine any possible way to host its 18th annual event, and after months of conversation, the event was deemed too great a risk for runners and citizens."
As a result, Canal Park will sit empty on Sept. 26 instead of having thousands of runners enter the park through the center field fence, sprint down the first base line and cross the finish line while thousands of supporters line the streets near the stadium and the stands inside.
Runners who have already registered for the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon, Team Relay or Kids Fun Run will have the option to keep their registration and participate virtually, donate their registration fee or defer their entry to a future race.
These two cancelations of normal sports staples could be the first of many dominoes to fall for a region whose sports fans could be among the most affected anywhere in Ohio.
Add in the Cleveland Cavaliers not being part of the NBA's resumption of its 2019-20 season in Orlando and local sports fans will be missing out on plenty due to the pandemic.
Additionally, the fate of the football seasons for local college teams such as the Akron Zips and Kent State Golden Flashes and local high school teams who still aren't certain about whether their seasons will be played as scheduled and there may not be much for local sports fans to cheer for in the months ahead.
The Zips have already lost a seven-figure payday with the decision by Week 3 foe Clemson and its fellow Atlantic Coast Conference members to limit its football schedule to conference games only, removing a Sept. 19 road game from the schedule for Akron.
It's the first of what seems likely to be a series of schedule alterations for the Zips in the midst of these uncertain times.