EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — After seeing the 2020 Minor League Baseball (MiLB) season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, El Paso Chihuahuas management and staff is planning and preparing for a full season in 2021.
Last week, Chihuahuas ownership announced they had accepted the San Diego Padres’ invitation to continue as their Triple-A affiliate after signing the Major League Baseball (MLB) Professional Development License. The agreement extended the affiliation for 10 years – through the 2030 season and sets the stage for the return of baseball in the Borderland.
Spring training is officially underway in Peoria, Arizona, with San Diego’s pitchers and catchers reporting on Wednesday. The Padres’ full MLB camp will report next week, however, due to the on-going pandemic, spring training complexes will be limited to the 75 MLB camp invites. That number is less than half in a normal year with all Double-A and Single-A players set to report after MLB’s Opening Day when big league campers depart.
MLB rosters are expected to be 26 players to start the season, which means 49 players won’t break camp with the big league club. According to Chihuahuas general manager Brad Taylor, the plan is to have the Triple-A season begin on-time with at least 25 players on each affiliates’ roster.
“The idea right now, that we’ve been told to expect, is that Triple-A will run concurrent with Major League Baseball,” said Taylor. “They want these guys to play. A lot of these players missed out on a lot of development games last year — 142 games they didn’t get to play in. My understanding is that once spring training clears with Major League and Triple-A players, that’s when they would like to bring in the Double-A and Single-A guys.”
According to Taylor, the 2021 Triple-A schedule will be released later this week with games beginning in April and running through the month of September. This comes after MLB released their realignment for MiLB last week. El Paso will now play in the East Division of Triple-A West with the likes of the Albuquerque Isotopes (Colorado Rockies affiliate), Oklahoma City Dodgers (Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate), Round Rock Express, (Texas Rangers affiliate), and the Sugar Land Skeeter (Houston Astros affiliate).
With the Chihuahuas planning for the season to begin on-time and to be played in full, the question becomes what will games at Southwest University Park look like in 2021? MountainStar Sports Group acquired the team in 2013 and Chihuahuas games have been some of the most highly-attended games in all of MiLB. While we shouldn’t expect to see the downtown ballpark at capacity anytime soon, the prospect of hosting limited fans is something Taylor says his staff is preparing for, especially after the ballpark safely allowed limited fans through their gates for El Paso Locomotive FC matches, MountainStar Sports Group’s USL Championship club.
“I think it’s just an exciting thing to finally feel like it’s real,” said Taylor. “We feel like there’s going to be a season — whatever that looks like, we’re excited to pull it off. I’m glad we got practice last year by doing Locomotive games. We’ve had this ballpark and this facility open. We’ve hosted 1,500-to-1,800 fans safely and socially distanced and perhaps we start that way, but we don’t know what that number is yet.”
It is shaping up to be a much different year at the ballpark than we have ever experienced, but that’s more than we can say for 2020.