Fresh from celebrating the country’s 245th birthday, the Saipan Baseball League has scrapped the 2021 season of America’s favorite pastime due to pending renovations at the Francisco “Tan Ko” M. Palacios Baseball Field.
SBL president Jay Santos last Friday delivered the unfortunate news that the local baseball federation has decided to cancel this year’s men’s baseball league.
“The 2021 season has been scuttled. There will be no baseball this year. We’ve hoped to start up the season at least a mini-season last May, but there are some pending renovations happening at the field,” he said in an interview with Saipan Tribune.
Santos said the Northern Marianas Sports Association, the islands’ umbrella sports organization, told SBL about the unavailability of the Palacios baseball field, which has not been the same since Super Typhoon Yutu wrought havoc on the facilities in 2018.
“We were advised by NMSA that we wouldn’t be allowed to use the field because those renovations are happening soon. I wasn’t able to get an update on when the renovations will start but I was hoping it would be sooner than later.”
Santos said that before SBL decided to ultimately pull the plug on the 2021 season, a number of teams were raring and gearing to bring baseball back to the islands.
“Some of the board members estimated from five to eight teams were still looking to start the 2021 season. I know there’s a lot of interest for baseball to get going again from a lot of players but sadly we couldn’t get that going because of the field,” he said.
While the 2021 season is now a lost cause, Santos is crossing his fingers that the SBL could start the 2022 season by January next year so they can adequately prepare the CNMI national baseball team for the 2022 Pacific Mini Games that will be played in home soil.
“Currently, the best-case scenario is they start construction and hopefully the renovations would be completed before the end of the year and we start a league in January and field a national team that can compete versus other SBL teams. Because the biggest thing in baseball is repetition, its competition, it’s the need for these guys to hit the field and compete against each other. If we don’t get that before the Mini Games next year then it’s going to be a huge challenge for our national team,” he said.
NMSA executive director Carline Sablan gave Santos and SBL a glimmer of hope when she told Saipan Tribune that the group’s timeline has renovations for the baseball field completed before the end of 2021.
“[We expect that] all needed repairs will be completed by December this year,” she said in a social media message.
While NMASA doesn’t have estimates on the total cost of the renovations for the “Tan Ko” field, Sablan said Federal Emergency Management Agency funds will be used for the repairs necessary to successfully host the baseball event for the Mini Games next year with other improvements to be taken out from $21.2-million grant to rebuild the Oleai Sports Complex awarded by the Economic Development Administration.
She added that in particular parts of the centrally located baseball field that need repairs include the press box, lighting, fencing, scoreboard, in-field repairs, dugouts, restrooms, shortening of sidelines, warning tracks in the outfield, covering or awning for spectator seating, bullpen, and the installation of artificial turf or a hybrid like Palau’s baseball field, among others.