FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks will play the final four games of the American Association baseball regular season with half of their everyday roster, in part because of the vaccination status of some of the team's players, as they head to Canada for the first time this season.
They will temporarily add nine players to round out the roster as they finish out the regular season with a four-game series that begins Friday against the Winnipeg Goldeyes at Shaw Park. RedHawks general manager Matt Rau said F-M is sending 12 of its normal 24-man roster to Winnipeg.
The RedHawks will have 21 players available after adding nine players specifically for this series. Rau said all the players added to F-M's roster have professional experience. F-M has already clinched a spot in the playoffs.
“You always want to put your best foot forward, you want to play a competitive baseball game,” Rau said. “You owe that to fans who are paying their dollars to watch.”
Part of the reason F-M is sending half its normal roster is the COVID-19 vaccination status for some players on the team. To enter Canada, Rau said players and team personnel need to be fully vaccinated and also have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of crossing the border. He said more than two-thirds of the team’s baseball operations staff, including players, coaches and trainers, are fully vaccinated.
“We have players who are vaccinated that are staying back and players who are unvaccinated staying back,” Rau said. “For some of the vaccinated guys, it was more a strategic decision to set up for the playoffs.”
Winnipeg moved back home in early August after starting its season in Jackson, Tenn. The Goldeyes played their home games in Jackson while the Canadian border closed to the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Going to Winnipeg for four games just kind of puts everything on pause because it’s going to create so many unknown results,” RedHawks manager Chris Coste said of a remade roster. “We’re ecstatic that we made the playoffs, but in essence a one-game playoff is all that we’ve qualified for. That’s great, but nowhere near where the goal has ever been.”
The RedHawks were scheduled to play their final regular-season home game Thursday night against the Sioux City Explorers at Newman Outdoor Field, but it was canceled due to weather. F-M is in second place in the North Division standings and would host a one-game playoff against the Milwaukee Milkmen if the RedHawks maintained that spot. F-M sits behind the Chicago Dogs, who are in first place in the North Division.
If the standings hold, the winner of the Milwaukee-RedHawks one-game wildcard playoff would then face Chicago in a best-of-5 division championship series.
American Association commissioner Joshua Schaub said prior to the season, the teams in the league agreed to a COVID declaration that allowed for flexibility this season due to the pandemic. That allowed Winnipeg to move back home to Shaw Park once the border opened and also for the league’s playoff structure, which added the wildcard round, during the regular season.
“I think teams are pretty understanding that Winnipeg has been on the road, they were on the road for over a year and a half,” said Schaub, who added Winnipeg had to make roster moves that included key players to be able to return to Canada to play. “They did it on behalf of the league. Without Winnipeg in 2020, we don’t even have a season.”
Rau agreed with Schaub. The Goldeyes played their home games at Newman Outdoor Field in a COVID-shortened 2020 season.
"After (Winnipeg) spent the entire season here last year and half the season in Jackson, Tennessee, this year, anything that we can do to play up there to give their fans and their staff a little bit of some life is great," Rau said.
Schaub said that in non-COVID seasons, teams often have a player or two they aren’t able to travel to Canada for various reasons. Rau added the RedHawks had ample time to plan for their trip to Winnipeg.
“We knew about it a month ago so we had plenty of time to plan. It’s a unique situation since it’s the last (four) games of the year,” Rau said. “Thankfully, we know we’re just fighting for position versus a chance to play in the playoffs.”
Schaub said the one-game wildcard playoff is something that could be used beyond this season.
“Although it has not been perfect, the expansion of the playoffs I’m proud of,” Schaub said. “COVID has presented quite a few opportunities for not only our league, but other leagues, to try things that they’re going to (use) moving forward.”