This was a lost season for minor league baseball teams across the country, with many franchises facing severe economic issues because of the coronavirus shutdown.
The hard times brought many challenges, but also opportunities to think outside the box and come up with a plan to try and soften the blow as much as possible — both economically and as community stalwarts.
That second part is important, too.
At their core, minor league franchises are community staples. In most cities, they serve as the best gathering place available for fans, and a night out at the ballpark is often more a social event than a sports event.
I’ve covered the Altoona Curve for 21 years and have written countless stories about how impressive the franchise has always been as a local community treasure. The Curve are one of the elite franchises in minor league baseball for numerous reasons — the gorgeous ballpark, great ownership, creative front office, fan-friendly atmosphere — and they put all of that on display trying to make the best of a bad situation over the summer.
The Curve didn’t host any minor league baseball games, but Peoples Natural Gas Field was a vital part of the Pirates organization by serving as the home of the Bucs’ satellite training camp. A whole slew of players who worked out in Altoona this summer wound up playing for the Pirates.
A total of 53 former Curve players appeared in major league games this season, with nine of those getting to the big leagues for the first time. These eight former Curve players will be playing in the MLB postseason:
**Tampa Bay Rays: P Tyler Glasnow, OF Austin Meadows, OF Charlie Morton (who rehabbed with Curve)
**Yankees: P Gerrit Cole
**Indians: OF Jordan Luplow
**Blue Jays: C Reese McGuire
**A’s: OF Robbie Grossman
**Marlins: OF Starling Marte
The Curve also did everything they could to get maximum use out of PNG Field. They hosted numerous events that allowed fans — following the legal PA limit for gatherings — to visit the ballpark and keep in touch with their friends all summer.
Some of the events included:
**Weekly farmer’s market
**Happy hour/trivia nights
**Curve Burger sales nights
**High school baseball showcases
**Voices of Blair County gathering
**Fourth of July fireworks
**Dinners for various groups
The Curve even held a wedding on Aug. 8, with a local couple, Tim and Adrienne Harding of Altoona, getting married.
“Community is the lifeblood to success in minor league baseball,” Curve GM Derek Martin said. “While our staff and community was devastated that the 2020 season was canceled, everyone stepped up their game to create fun, entertaining events for our community to enjoy.
“Our staff really wanted to show the community that we are here and that we will still be a large contributor to the fantastic community that we live in. I couldn’t be prouder of them for how they have stepped up during these trying times.”
The trying times will continue for minor league baseball, which faces the likely contraction of 40 teams to bring the total number down to 120.
The Curve will survive the cutdown because of their beautiful ballpark, close proximity to Pittsburgh and their terrific front office.
Hopefully we get some return to normalcy next year with the return of minor league baseball around the country — both in Altoona and State College, which could be on the chopping block.
Still, give the Curve credit for making the most of a tough situation this year and continuing to be a major part of the local community.