One of the great sports traditions in the Four Corners has been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Connie Mack World Series, which has been held each year in Farmington since 1965, was canceled Wednesday. The 2020 edition of one of the nation’s top amateur baseball tournaments was scheduled to begin July 22 at the famed Ricketts Park.
“It’s a sad day in Farmington, New Mexico. We take a lot of pride in this event,” CMWS chairman Tyson Snyder said. “The northwest corner of New Mexico is currently considered a high-risk, hotbed area for COVID-19. Gov. (Michelle Lujan Grisham) last week outlined a process of reopening, which is currently in the preparation phase. Even if we get to Stage 2 and beyond, large events are off the table. Our event, we can have 8,000 people in the stadium. With the health risk of COVID-19, we have to halt mass gatherings for the foreseeable future.”
The 16-team tournament, put on by the American Amateur Baseball Congress, features some of the top players from around the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico each year with players between the ages of 16 and 18. It is a highly-attended event by college and professional scouts, with many players agreeing to contracts with pro clubs throughout the week-long tournament.
Each year, players from around the Four Corners compete in the Connie Mack city league throughout the summer with the season culminating with a city tournament to determine a local host team for the CMWS. In most years, a handful of players from Colorado are represented on the host team. Last season, Durango’s Gage Mestas earned a spot in the CMWS with the 4-Corners Baseball Frackers team.
Within the city league, Durango typically fields a team in an effort to develop young players. Many of the area’s top players compete with recent traditional powers such as 4-Corners or Farmington Strike Zone.
“It’s a disappointment,” said Durango High School coach Rob Coddington, who has frequently coached teams in the Connie Mack city league. “The Connie Mack World Series is a mainstay in the baseball community. Hopefully, it’s just a one-time deal and things start turning back around in 2020 and 2021 to get back to playing some high school and summer baseball. The kids are all ready for that day to come, and the coaches are, too.”
The CMWS has featured some of the sport’s biggest names, from a list of hall of famers that includes Ken Griffey Jr. to current stars such as Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado and Anthony Rizzo.
Teams qualify through regionals all across the country and Puerto Rico. They are welcomed to Farmington via police escort, are paraded through downtown and celebrated during a lavish opening ceremony. Players are treated like heroes, often stopping to sign autographs for young fans. After a week of baseball, one team is crowned champion, complete with rings.
“It’s disappointing, but I guess I understand,” said 4-Corners manager Mike McGaha, a former state champion winning coach at Piedra Vista High School in Farmington and a current assistant at La Cueva High School in Albuquerque. “The Connie Mack World Series infrastructure and how the entire event is held together is maintained by ticket sales and host families. There is no way to subsidize it through local leagues. Even if our governor would lift some restrictions, it’s not going to be enough to have gatherings of more than 10 people. Without selling thousands of tickets, they can’t have a Connie Mack World Series or even throw together a makeshift thing together for a sheer lack of funds.”
The community opens its homes to host the players, making Farmington a special host city for the event. Teams often visit Durango to take rafting trips or fly fish the San Juan River during off days. The loss of the series this year won’t only be an economic hit to Farmington but to Durango, as well.
“You have to qualify to get here, earn the right to get here, win a regional event,” Snyder said. “None of that is happening. Some of that may happen in some parts of the country, but no one knows. It’s such an uncertain time. Without baseball happening, it’s hard to have a destination world series.”
Snyder said he was unsure if the Farmington Amateur Baseball Congress will conduct a city league season this year. Coddington said no word has officially been sent out to teams. The DHS coach hopes, if nothing else, local teams will eventually be able to get together to stage scrimmages to give players some game experience this summer.
“The American Legion is canceling the majority of its events, too,” Coddington said. “It sounds like everything is going to be canceled. I’ve already talked with the kids and have been in touch with some of the local high school coaches. We are all staying optimistic to be able to get in some local games just to get some activity. But everyone is in the same mode waiting for various health departments to make those calls.”
Thursday, Little League announced it would cancel it seven world series tournaments as well as its 82 regional qualifying tournaments. Little League is leaving decisions regarding baseball activities up to each state and local government regarding play after May 11.
“This is a heartbreaking decision for everyone at Little League International, but more so for those millions of Little Leaguers who have dreamt of one day playing in one of our seven World Series events,” Stephen D. Keener, Little League President and CEO, said in a news release. “After exhausting all possible options, we came to the conclusion that because of the significant public health uncertainty that will still exist several months from now, and with direction from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, as well as senior public health officials and government leaders from locations where our other six World Series are held, as well as the their qualifying regional tournaments, it will not be possible to proceed with our tournaments as we’ve hosted them for nearly 75 years.”
For the CMWS, Snyder was eager to showcase some enhanced seating renovations at Ricketts Park this summer. Now, the AABC organizers will aim to resume the majestic event in 2021.
“It’s absolutely gut-wrenching for me. One of the saddest days of my life, and I mean that,” Snyder said. “This is an elite baseball tournament not only for the players but for our community. You see people come together, see people you many not see the rest of the year but can count on seeing them under the lights at Ricketts Park. It’s a great event. To not have it, it feels like it was taken away like so many other things like weddings, graduations, funerals, Major League Baseball. It’s a hard decision to make, but our hands are tied. At the end of the day, as bad as that feels, what would feel worse is if someone got sick or died and it was traced back to the Connie Mack World Series. We had to err on the side of keeping people safe.
“We will continue to work year-round and make sure we come back bigger, better, stronger and have an even bigger celebration in 2021. All we can do is look to improve and bounce back for our community.”