CPL still hopes to play this summer, but not with all its teams

Despite decisions by teams in Asheboro and Holly Springs not to play because of COVID-19 concerns, the Coastal Plain League still plans to play baseball this summer

McCrary Park, home to the Asheboro Copperheads, remains closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although the Coastal Plain League plans to resume play July 1, the Copperheads have decided to skip the 2020 season (North State Journal)

The Coastal Plain League is still hoping to play at least part of a season this summer. But even if it does, not all of its teams will be participating.

The Asheboro Copperheads became the latest team to opt out on Wednesday when team owners Doug and Ronnie Pugh issued a statement saying that because of health concerns, the team will not play in 2020.

The Holly Springs Salamanders and the Tri-City Chile Peppers of Colonial Heights, Virginia, have also decided to skip the season, and the Florence Red Wolves are unable to play because their field is owned by Francis Marion University and is not available during the coronavirus shutdown.

“This is without question the toughest decision we’ve had to make as an organization,” Doug Pugh said in the statement. “But for the overall health and safety of our host families, players, staff and fans, we feel that playing would not be in everyone’s best interest.”

Founded in 1997 by Durham native Pete Bock, the CPL is designed to give college baseball players from around the country an opportunity to continue playing once their school seasons are finished, using the wood bats they’ll hit with once they turn professional.

The league, which is similar to the more famous Cape Cod League, has 15 franchises — eight of which are located in North Carolina — and normally plays a schedule that runs from late May through early August.

Because of the coronavirus, the league announced it was planning to begin play on July 1. That, according to Morehead City Marlins owner Buddy Bengel, is still the intention of a majority of the CPL’s teams.

“Obviously, we’re continuing to monitor what our local and state officials are doing in terms of opening sporting venues back up,” Bengel said. “I hate that Asheboro made the decision not to play this summer. The Pughs are an amazing family and they’ve done such great things for that team and their community. But we are working every day to try to open as soon as possible.”

When that might be is still anybody’s guess.

Bengel said that the league has sent a proposal detailing the safety measures it plans to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including limiting attendance in its stadiums, to Gov. Roy Cooper. But the teams have yet to get a response.

The number of games the CPL hopes to play in its abbreviated season will be determined once it gets the official go-ahead to proceed. 

That has to happen soon, though, because the window to have a meaningful season is small. Any more delays would make trying to play unfeasible.

“We’re kind of playing with a magic eight ball right now because we’re kind of guessing what’s going to come up next,” Bengel said. “One of the factors we were originally planning, going later into the summer, has changed now with schools starting back up early so they can get things done by Thanksgiving in case there’s a second wave.

“With schools going back early, that takes away our interns and our players. So we’re kind of having to adjust. It’s a discussion we’re still having right. Now.”

In addition to Morehead City, Asheboro and Holly Springs, the other North Carolina-based teams are the Forest City Owls, Gastonia Grizzlies, High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms, Wilmington Sharks and Wilson Tobs.

Other teams are located in Macon and Savannah, Georgia; Colonial Hampton and Martinsville, Virginia; and Lexington, South Carolina.

“We’re doing our best to play,” Bengel said. “There’s an importance in what we do to our communities and an importance to what our teams bring to all our states. There’s a value to playing baseball and getting back to life as normal in a safe and responsible manner.”