The Peninsula Oilers play the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks on Sunday, June 16, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

The Peninsula Oilers play the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks on Sunday, June 16, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Oilers cancel 2020 season

The Peninsula Oilers have canceled their 2020 season, stopping the string of consecutive summers the Alaska Baseball League team has entertained the central Kenai Peninsula at 46.

“At the Peninsula Oilers Baseball Club, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our customers, employees, and the community we serve,” read a statement released Thursday night by Michael Tice, president of the Oilers board. “As the US and many other countries continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), we cannot ask players, coaches and staff members to travel up to Alaska.

“We will not ask our sponsors and host families for financial support at this time when they have their employees, customers and families to support.”

The Oilers executive committee made the decision to cancel the season Wednesday. Tice said the three-time National Baseball Congress World Series champions, who had gone the longest of any squad in the ABL without canceling a season, intend to play again in 2021.

The state of Alaska mandated that entertainment facilities, including bingo halls, be closed starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday through April 1 at 5 p.m. Tice said the bingo hall could be closed longer, depending on what happens with the new coronavirus.

“We were hurting in the first place,” Tice said. “For this to happen, we can’t operate without that income.”

Tice said that in normal times, he has no problem asking businesses and individuals to give to the Oilers, and families to host an Oilers player. These are not normal times. Tice said money would be better spent helping kids who are out of school, or giving to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

Tice said the bingo hall has nine employees. At this point, none have been laid off, but hours have been reduced.

“We’re not going to take that step lightly, either,” Tice said of laying off employees. “We’re giving them the hours we can give them.”

Tice said he informed the league of the decision Wednesday.

“Their attitude was really more or less we shouldn’t do this,” Tice said. “It’s not fair to the league. Sorry. I don’t know what to tell you guys.”

Tice said the league was thinking the closures would pass soon. Tice said the Oilers felt compelled to make the decision now.

Kyle Brown, head coach and general manager, had pretty much finished recruiting the team. Now those players can be released and have time to find other teams.

Brown, reached by cellphone Thursday evening in San Diego, said the Oilers canceling a season after playing for 46 straight was in line with what he was seeing daily due to the coronavirus.

“It’s movie-like down here,” Brown said. “It’s pretty nuts.”

At the end of last week, Brown said the baseball season was canceled for both colleges and junior colleges. Brown’s job coaching at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California, ended, so he went to work for Costco.

“Two weeks ago, there were no limits on what you could buy or how much you could buy,” Brown said. “People were loading toilet paper as far, wide and tall as you could go. Water was the same way.”

Brown said Costco has since limited how much of those items can be bought at once. There also are limits on how many customers can be in the store at once, so one group comes in, then the next can’t enter until everyone from the previous group is gone.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a statewide stay-at-home order for Californians, effective Thursday. Brown said the only reason he was able to leave his home Thursday is because of his job at Costco.

Even in the midst of this, Brown said the loss of the 2020 season is tough.

“Obviously, they’re taking extreme measures down here and the country is taking extreme measures due to the pandemic, but I say this for the organization with a heavy heart — it’s tough not to go,” Brown said. “I’ll miss seeing the people I love — the fans and the community that’s been a part of this with me for the last three years.

“This thing will subside, and with full force in 2021 baseball will come back to the peninsula.”

Brown said other teams in the Alaska Baseball League are still full steam ahead. He said the teams know time will have to be given to the players to get in shape after not having a college season.

“Do I hope they have baseball in Alaska this summer?” Brown asked. “Heck yea. You guys need it up there.”

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