COVID relief money eyed by NJ minor league baseball teams

After a COVID year that saw the entire 2020 minor league season canceled and 40 teams disbanded under a new Major League Baseball takeover of the lower teams, there may be some help on the horizon.

The bi-partisan Minor League Baseball Relief Act was introduced last week in Congress and could steer some $550 million in COVID relief to dozens of eligible teams, the Jersey Shore Blue Claws among them.

Jersey Shore BlueClaws President Joe Ricciutti promises a safe return to baseball for local fans as the Lakewood team's 20th season begins May 4.

“While the BlueClaws are certainly excited to be back playing this year, the last 16 months have been extremely challenging financially for our team and everyone across the industry,” BlueClaws President Joe Ricciutti stated in an online plea for support of the legislation. “Passage of this bill would go a long way to helping out teams such as the BlueClaws and we thank everyone for their continued support.”

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His message noted that “the bill repurposes leftover COVID-19 relief funds for an emergency grant program designed to help teams recover from the tremendous economic impact of the last 16 months.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, introduced the legislation June 28 during an event at Dunkin Donuts Park in Hartford, home of the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats, a Colorado Rockies affiliate.

Joe Strupp

“Essentially, as a lifeline, this money would go to the teams to compensate for their past losses in revenue,” Blumenthal said, according to the Hartford Courant. “The shortfalls of when ballparks were closed will be compensated, just as it is for live entertainment, concert halls or clubs or theaters and stages, museums. Minor league baseball was left out.”

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Maximum bailout $15 million 

All 120 minor league teams would be eligible based on their specific financial needs, with up to $15 million available for each club. It’s co-sponsored by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. Supporters hope it will be included in the next federal infrastructure bill.

“Baseball is America’s pastime & brings communities together,” Blumenthal tweeted after the introduction. “The bipartisan Minor League Baseball Relief Act will be a lifeline to so many minor league teams across the country — like the (Yard Goats) who were forced to close their ballparks due to the pandemic.”

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