The Ogden Raptors’s season will start a month early this year. For Dave Baggott, the professional baseball team’s president, that’s both too soon and not soon enough to get the ball rolling.
Baggott has an overwhelming number of new tasks to address since his team and its brethren in the Pioneer League — a short-season Advanced Rookie league — were among those left on the cutting-room floor last fall when Major League Baseball contracted its minor-league teams from 160 to 120.
The Pioneer League has since reorganized as one of four “partner leagues” of the MLB. That means it gets minimal financial support from the top-tier league and won’t be sent players from the big-league teams. Then again, its teams are no longer under MLB’s yoke and are free to organize and promote themselves mostly however they choose.
“I’m thrilled to death of where we’re headed,” Baggott said. “And I think we have some advantages, some things that we can do freedom-wise that the current 120 [minor-league affiliates] won’t be allowed to do.”
For one, they get to set their own schedule. They’ll start a month earlier than usual, with the Raptors hosting league newcomer Boise Hawks in their opener May 22. Each team should play 96 games, which is about 20 more than in the past.
In accordance with state rules concerning COVID-19 — which forced the cancelation of the entire 2020 season — the Raptors will allow 70-80% capacity at Lindquist Field depending on the size of the groups attending, according to GM Trevor Wilson. Groups will be spaced about two feet apart and masks will be required, per state regulations on gatherings of more than 50 people.
Tickets can be purchased online or at a kiosk at the stadium. The club began experimenting with digital menus in 2019 and will continue to let fans order online. This year, however, they can also request delivery to their seats. Also new this year, the Raptors will open the O-Town Beach Club, a full bar and restaurant with a view of the field.
Baggott said he and his staff have already begun scouting and recruiting players and will hold a local tryout May 12-13 to try to uncover the best talent in the area. He expects to be able to allow autograph signings, coach-for-a-day, and other player interactions this year. But even if those activities have to be cut back, he said he believes the level of play will be worth the price of admission.
“They’re going to be more experienced,” he said. “They’re going to be better. The game is going to be quicker, and we’re playing more games.”
Despite the increase, none of those games will be against the Raptors’ former Pioneer League rival, the Orem Owlz. Owner Jeff Katofsky uprooted the Owlz from Utah County last year and relocated them to Windsor, Colorado. They will rejoin the league as the Northern Colorado Owlz in 2022.