Due to the ongoing pandemic, West Coast League baseball will not feature international regular season play in 2021.
The U.S./Canada border closure to non-essential travel has been extended for the 12th time, with a continued closure until at least April 21.
In addition to the news that Canada-U.S. cross-border play will not feature in revised schedules that have not yet been finalized, the league announced on Thursday (March 25) that the Kelowna Falcons have withdrawn from play for the 2021 season, but plan on returning in 2022.
“Although a tough decision, I feel that it’s the right one at this time for both my players and my community,” Falcons’ general manager Mark Nonis said.
Kelowna began play in the Pacific International League in 2000 and, in 2005, was a founding member of the West Coast League.
Each of the league’s 15 teams was slated to play 54 games — 27 home and away — in the original schedule released in November.
The U.S. portion of the revised regular-season schedule will be released next week and consist of 48 games per team.
The Canadian portion of the schedule — featuring the Victoria HarbourCats and three expansion teams: Kamloops NorthPaws, Nanaimo NightOwls and Edmonton Riverhawks — will be released in the first half of April.
The revised structure leaves open the possibility of a full league playoff format.
NorthPaws’ co-owner Jon Pankuch told KTW earlier this month his club’s expansion season will be postponed until 2022 if pandemic-related restrictions do not allow for at least 1/3 capacity (about 500 fans) at Norbrock Stadium.
“I don’t know if we can do it with anything less than that,” Pankuch said. “The fan component is a huge part of this [business] model and how it works.”
Current health orders in B.C. restrict outdoor gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
Pankuch said Kamloops ownership has until the second or third week of April to make its decision on the 2021 campaign, which is scheduled to begin in June.
“That has a lot to do with the kids we have on contract,” Pankuch said. “If we don’t know if we can have a season, we owe it to those kids to release them from their contracts and be able play somewhere south of the border.”
The WCL, wood-bat summer league has teams across Oregon, Washington state, B.C. and Alberta and features collegiate players with professional aspirations. Many former West Coast Leaguers are playing in the MLB and minor league circuits.