Montreal

Could coronavirus strike out baseball in Quebec?

Quebec's baseball community saw a steady growth in participation over the last 12 years, but now everything its members have built is at risk.

Pandemic may lead to financial difficulty for a sport that has been on the rise in recent years

Bram Lackman-Mincoff, 14, plays catch with his brother outdoors to get his baseball fix, but he's worried about what may happen to the 2020 season. (Submitted by Bram Lackman-Mincoff)

Bram Lackman-Mincoff, 14, has tried playing other sports like hockey, but four years ago he discovered baseball was his game.

He plays in the NDG house league and couldn't wait to get on the diamond and start the 2020 season.

"Normally around this time, there is a lot of anticipation and I'm like, 'oh my God I'm so excited for another year,'" Lackman-Mincoff said.

Thursday was supposed to be Major League Baseball's opening day — and that's usually a signal to amateur players in Quebec that their season is right around the corner.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majors are on hold and baseball in the province is suspended until at least May.

Lackman-Mincoff worries there may not be a season at all.

"In the past years, a lot of my friends from school were on my team, and with school on hold too, I probably won't be seeing my friends for a while — so that's upsetting," he said.

To get his fix, Lackman-Mincoff has been playing catch with his brother in his driveway or heading to a nearby park to swing his bat.

"It does make me kind of feel bad because I'm practising and getting better but I'm not going to be able to use this practice," he said.

"It's not going to pay off because we're not going to be playing, so it's kind of bittersweet."

Baseball Quebec bracing for financial fallout

Maxime Lamarche, the general manager of Baseball Quebec, said he's trying to put Lackman-Mincoff and the other 35,000 amateur players in the province at ease.

He said he's optimistic that there will be a season of some kind this year, even if it's only a fraction of what they normally play.

The alternative, a cancelled season, could be devastating financially.

"We're a non-profit organization, we don't run on big bank accounts," Lamarche said.

He said between 70 and 75 per cent of their resources come from registration fees and without a season to sign up for, that revenue could drop to zero.

"We will need help from the ministry. We understand that right now we're not the priority, but if we want to get back to where we were and we want to continue our growth, we will need their help more than ever," he said.

The head of Baseball Quebec says tough times may be on the horizon for his organization. (Radio Canada Archives)

Lamarche is preparing to lay off the organization's nine full-time employees and five part-time employees.

He said the shutdown will also affect all 20 of the baseball Sport-études programs in Quebec with 65 to 85 coaches under their umbrella.

"Right now, the schools are closed so they're not coaching, they're not doing their job so they will have to go on employment insurance also," Lamarche said.

In 2008, Lamarche said Baseball Quebec counted around 17,000 players in the province. Over the last 12 years, that number has grown to 35,000 players.

"It won't be like that this year," Lamarche said. "I'm not worried in the long-term, but the next months? How are we going to make it?"

More pain for suffering Expos fans

Perry Giannias spent Thursday morning going through his Expos memorabilia in his basement.

"That's the only thing that keeps me sane," Giannias said.

Major League Baseball's opening day has been tough for him since the Expos left town, and this year is even more difficult.

"We have no team to celebrate," he said. "It's been 16 years of handling it badly from an Expos point of view. But it's an extra bit of a slap in the face because we can't follow anybody else. I was really looking forward to seeing Vladimir Guerrero Jr. play."

He postponed an annual celebration called Expos Fest that he organizes due to the pandemic.

It's held around the same time as the Blue Jays host exhibition games at the Olympic Stadium and anticipation for it was high. The Jays were scheduled to host the Yankees, and Hall of Famers Tim Raines and Andre Dawson were expected to be in town for Expos Fest.

But Giannias said Expos fans are a resilient bunch.

"They've been awesome. Nobody has asked for a refund. They're just waiting for the date to be rescheduled. We have the best supporters."

Giannias also believes that the overall goal of bringing a professional team back to the city will continue to move forward regardless of what happens with this baseball season.

He's even optimistic that Expos Fest could be better off if it's rescheduled for this summer.  

"Maybe we can make a whole weekend out of it and have even more fun than we would have had in March," Giannias said. 

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