RubberDucks' Odor ready to get back on field

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
A member of the grounds crew mows the outfield of Canal Park, Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in Akron, Ohio. The RubberDucks were scheduled to play the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in their home opener on Friday, April 17, but the season has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

AKRON – Listen to Akron RubberDucks manager Rouglas Odor talk and it's clear that the longtime veteran of the game still has plenty of excitement for the coming season.

After missing out on a 2020 campaign because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he returns for his second season on the bench for the RubberDucks and, while the roster is still taking shape, Odor is eager to get going regardless of which position players and pitchers are ultimately assigned to Akron. The mission, as always, is player development and trying to win games while preparing the next generation of Cleveland Indians prospects for what lies ahead.

"It's great to be back on the field and just to see everybody's faces ... the players, coaches, staff people and front office people," Odor said. "Even though I had the opportunity to do winter ball,  it wasn't the same because I didn't have the chance to see all of my friends here."

Last year, when minor league baseball didn't have a season, Major League Baseball played a shortened, 60-game season. It left those in the minors to watch the game they love without being able to play themselves. Odor stayed in touch with his friends in the game and admitted that it was weird seeing games without fans and a postseason played at quasi-bubble sites as opposed to at teams' home venues.

Without games of their own, minor league coaches and managers had to find other ways to stay connected.

"We did have a remote season with Zoom meetings and on the phone and we found a way to try to still help our players out," Odor noted.

Those efforts, like in other walks of life, weren't quite the same as being face to face and being able to actively participate in sports or other endeavors, but they were the best that could be done due to the pandemic. Its effects are still being felt across society despite the spread of vaccinations and in minor league baseball, one of the effects is a shortened season for the newly minted Double-A Northeast League, formerly known as the Eastern League.

The RubberDucks will play 120 games, down from their normal 140, but Odor doesn't believe that reduction will have a significant impact. The more structured schedule will see teams play six game stints each week in a certain city, with Mondays as off days.

They'll alternate home and road six-game blocks and that regimented approach will provide regularity and consistency.

"Going from 140 games to 120 isn't that bad ... it's about the same and that's a lot of games we're going to be able to play ... we have to follow the protocols, go to a city, stay in a hotel and play six games at a time," Odor said. "Just the fact that we didn't have minor league baseball last year, we have that appreciation that we're going to be back on the field."

Although the roster hasn't been finalized, with the MLB season underway, teams at least have a general idea of which players will be on their roster even if it remains to be decided who will be assigned to the Triple-A, Double-A and Single-A levels. Odor observed that at this point, it's typically only a few players who are in the position of possibly going to one level of another.

Simply having a roster and having a starting date for the season are welcome developments following a year off and as the RubberDucks' field staff and front office wait for their own schedule to begin, they can see some of their former players contributing to a solid start to the year for the Indians. Being only about half an hour away from Cleveland, there remains a strong connection and as the RubberDucks continue to build toward their own opening day, baseball fans in the area can start to imagine getting back to Canal Park, finding a seat and watching what they hope will be the next generation of Indians prospects follow the same paths as the players who have passed through Akron on their way to big league success.