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Season cancellation a ‘sad day’ for Tampa Bay area minor-league teams

Previously planned games and promotional events won't be happening in Dunedin, Clearwater, Tampa and other cities around the Florida State League.

The Blue Jays debuted their newly renovated stadium in Dunedin this season, one that featured a 360-degree boardwalk. The “Orange Trail” allowed fans to venture around the park without missing a single pitch.

Unfortunately, TD Ballpark hosted only three weeks’ worth of games before the coronavirus pandemic halted and ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the rest of the season.

As Major League Baseball prepares to return this month, more than 5,000 players from 160 minor-league teams in 14 leagues learned Tuesday that their season is already over.

“It’s a sad day with the season officially being canceled,” said Mike Liberatore, general manager of the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Class A Florida State League. “I think we knew that this decision was coming for quite a while, and it’s the right decision for everybody’s safety and all that.”

Related: For Rays’ minor-league affiliates, no baseball forces a squeeze play for survival

Back in March, the major-league Blue Jays were looking forward to seeing their ballpark filled to capacity with spring break approaching and spring training games against the Red Sox and Rays already sold out.

“We were fortunate that we got to play and get the ballpark open as much as we did,” said Liberatore, 39.

The same went for other minor-league teams in the bay area, including the Clear­water Threshers (a Phillies affiliate), Tampa Tarpons (Yankees), Bradenton Marauders (Pirates) and Lakeland Flying Tigers (Tigers), among others in the FSL.

“The hardest part, especially for the staff, is it just puts into realization all of the hard work and efforts that you put into the season is kind of going away,” Threshers general manager Jason Adams said.

Adams, 44, said the Threshers continued some of their promotional events in a virtual fashion after the season was put on pause. The efforts were well-received and something different for the organization, he said.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Adams said. “I think some of the opportunities that we’ve learned, we can use to kind of include more people down the road once we get back in the ballpark next year.”

While disappointed about the loss of the season, Adams and Liberatore agreed that no longer having to deal with so many hypotheticals and questions brings some peace of mind.

Adams said he has already looked at the 2021 calendar, specifically where the holidays fall and what promotional events they can start to plan.

“It’s a little tricky for us, because time lines can’t be set,” Adams said. “Do we have the same capacities and allocations that we did in the past? So some of those things are going to slow us down.

“But we’re still going to do as much planning and community stuff as we can in the meantime. Trying to do the best we can for the community from where we’re at, I guess.”

Craig Warzecha, general manager of the Marauders, knew the decision to cancel the season would affect a lot of people around the ballpark and in the organization.

He’s trying to figure out ways the park can be used to keep people employed and maybe bring in some kind of income, too.

“What are things that make sense for us in order to host events and different things?” Warzecha said. “It’s a work in progress, but at least now that there’s an announcement about the season, we can kind of move forward and direct our efforts in other areas.”

Times staff reporter Matt Baker contributed to this report. Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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