FARGO — Winnipeg Goldeyes manager Rick Forney wasn’t confident there would be American Association baseball this year as recent as mid-June, but then he received a late-night call from team owner Sam Katz.
“I think we might be going,” Forney said, recalling Katz’s words.
A couple days later, the league announced an abbreviated 60-game season, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was going to start July 3. That news came June 12 and a shortened training camp started Thursday. Forney said the past couple weeks have been a whirlwind.
“Overwhelming to say the least,” said Forney, entering his 15th season as Goldeyes manager. “It’s been really hard to put this thing together. Up until like a couple weeks ago, I pretty much thought we were done. There was no way we were going to play. You just weren’t hearing anything positive that made you feel like we were going to play.”
The Goldeyes are sharing Newman Outdoor Field with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. The teams have been longtime rivals since the RedHawks started operations in 1996. Forney was also one of the top pitchers in Goldeyes history, playing for the team from 1997-2000.
“We’re certainly appreciative of the RedHawks being our host and I like being here,” Forney said. “I’ve always loved coming to Fargo. I like Newman Outdoor Field. I love the fan base, they’re energetic, they’re into it, they understand the league. I’m happy to be here, and if we have to play in a hub and not play in Winnipeg, then this is a place I am more than happy to play.”
Forney said building a roster on short notice has been one of the challenges over the past couple weeks with the short notice.
“You got to get on the phone with all your players and see who still wants to play, who doesn’t want to play and who can’t play because of immigration issues,” Forney said. “I realized I had about 10 days to get 13 guys. It’s been overwhelming to say the least. You’re sharing a ballpark and unloading equipment out of a trailer into the visitor’s locker room that you’re going to call home for the summer. It sure is strange.”
RedHawks general manager Matt Rau said it’s also been a challenge on the operations side.
“It’s just a compressed schedule as a whole, from getting a stadium ready, to getting our team here, to getting our vendors ready,” Rau said. “Typically, it’s a month-long process and we’re doing it on a very shortened time period.”
The Goldeyes practiced Friday afternoon at Newman Outdoor Field and will call the visitor’s locker room home this summer. The RedHawks and Winnipeg open the regular season at 7:02 p.m. next Friday at Newman.
Forney said the Goldeyes have used the locker room in a limited capacity thus far due to the COVID-19 outbreak, not wanting to congregate in an indoor space. He expects that to be the norm this season.
“You’re trying to make sure your players aren’t hanging out too much in that clubhouse and still trying to practice social distancing and things and that’s pretty hard to do inside of a baseball locker room. We’re pretty much not even using it,” Forney said. “Right now, it’s just really, really different. It doesn’t feel like it used to.”
Six of the 12 American Association teams are operating this summer due to the pandemic. The Sioux Falls Canaries, St. Paul Saints, Milwaukee Milkmen and Chicago Dogs are the other four franchises.
Forney said once he found out Winnipeg was playing this summer, there was no question he was going to be in the dugout.
“100%, if the Goldeyes are playing, Rick Forney is going to be there,” he said.