Champion City Kings, Prospect League cancel 2020 season

Champion City Kings third baseman Stephen Cullen has set a team record for RBIs with 43 last season. He also became the first Kings player to hit a home run in the Prospect League All-Star game. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER
Champion City Kings third baseman Stephen Cullen has set a team record for RBIs with 43 last season. He also became the first Kings player to hit a home run in the Prospect League All-Star game. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

The Springfield-based Champion City Kings collegiate summer baseball franchise has canceled its 2020 season due to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Prospect League announced Friday morning its decision to cancel the season.

“We’re very disappointed,” said Kings general manager Ginger Fulton. “We wanted this in the worst way for the community and our players. We had really hoped we could hold out and get it done. We did our due diligence and examined every angle that we could, just not our organization but as a league. We looked at what the best practices were in our sport, our counties, our states and they just became a little bit insurmountable on varying levels.”

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The complications regarding health and safety became too much for the league, which consists of 12 teams in five different states, to overcome, especially when it comes to the safety of the fans and the players, Fulton said.

“No one really knew when we were going to have a decent amount of people permitted into the stadium,” she said. “We were also trying to figure out how do we keep our players safe, how do we test them, do we test them? How do we put them six feet apart in a bus when we do so much traveling? Ultimately, if one team had someone who tested for it, do we have to quarantine the entire team? If you had to quarantine a team for 14 days, it would wipe out the season not just for that home team, but for everybody they were playing.”

The five states have different restrictions at the moment, meaning the guidelines are different for each state, Fulton said.

“It just became insurmountable in terms of all the issues and doing all the right things for our fans and our players,” she said.

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The Kings will return to Springfield in 2021, Fulton said. The franchise will be in contact with season ticket holders about possible future ticket options, Fulton said.

“We’ll absolutely be back in 2021, bigger and better than ever,” she said.

The wooden bat summer league was hoping to begin its shortened season on July 1 as the country continues to reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, several Prospect League teams who play at collegiate baseball fields weren’t permitted to use their facilities this summer, she said.

The Kings were originally scheduled to begin their 60-game season on May 28, but the start of the season was pushed back last month. The league had altered its schedule to 46 games and planned play into mid-August, nearing the deadline for when players can return to their collegiate teams.

Fulton, a former professional golfer who served as an athletics administrator at both Seton Hall and the Patriot League, has been through some tough situations, but hasn’t seen anything quite like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is so mysterious,” Fulton said. “I think that’s the best way to describe it. You really don’t know your enemy. You just know it could get you any time. That’s the hard part. When you’re in sports, you’re always planning and you’re planning way in advance. We’re in a position where we can’t plan as much as we’d like to because there are too many question marks.”

The collegiate summer wooden bat league franchise came to Springfield in 2014. The Kings have an all-time record of 152-203. The Kings’ best season was 2017 when they finished 29-29.

Fulton thanked the team’s sponsors for supporting the franchise during these unprecedented times.

“It’s very difficult for us,” Fulton said. “We exist to serve our community and we hate to have to cancel. As a league, it became the right thing to do.”