Amidst the historical COVID-19 pandemic, the CRBL did not have a league season for the first time since 1945. Opening day was slated for April 25 and then pushed back to June 7. With concerns over COVID at the forefront, early June arrived, only to see opening day postponed once again, this time to July 8. Within that postponement, the Eau Claire Cavaliers and Whitehall Wolves announced they would not be participating in the 2020 season. On the night of July 7, due to a positive infection of one player and multiple exposures, the painful decision was made to cancel or “to not sanction” league play for 2020. Further contributing to the decision was the CRBL’s inability to formulate a coordinated, cooperative and informed organizational plan with considerations for social guidelines and field usage stipulations. Moreover, on July 10, there was yet another confirmed case of COVID-19 on a second CRBL team.
With nine of the CRBL’s eleven teams choosing to play non-league games throughout June and July, the WBA tournament loomed on the August horizon. Due to the pandemic, the WBA earlier had announced a modified 12 team state tournament, one that would involve pool play formulated by two representatives from each of the WBA’s six affiliated leagues.
With no sanctioned league season, it was decided by the CRBL managers to hold a “WBA Qualifying Tournament” in order to determine the CRBL’s two state qualifying teams. Hesitant to oversee the event stemming from the disjointed approach to handling the pandemic, league officers decided to not organize the event. Additionally, the Cadott Red Sox and Eau Claire Rivemen opted out, meaning seven teams were left to play: the Beef River Bullfrogs, Bloomer Fighting Woodticks, Chippewa Falls LumberJacks, Eau Claire Bears, Jim Falls Sturgeons, Osseo Merchants, and Tilden Tigers.
After the tournament format was set, Tilden announced they would not be able to participate, resulting in a forfeit win for their first round opponent, the Chippewa Falls LumberJacks. With Tilden and four other league teams now not playing in the WBA Qualifying Tournament, the Eau Claire Bears opportunistically added available players from the Eau Claire Cavaliers, Eau Claire Rivermen and Tilden Tigers. In addition to the Cadott Red Sox and Whitehall Wolves, players from those five “opting out” teams technically had not played in the WBA Qualifying tournament, which was not sanctioned by the CRBL. Therefore, players from those five organizations were viewed as free agents, available for any team to grab. Sound convoluted and confusing? Yep, indeed it was.
The results from the WBA Qualifying Tournament, held on August 8th and 9th, 2020 were as follows:
Beef River Bullfrogs 2, Bloomer Fighting Woodticks 1 at Bloomer
Eau Claire Bears 11, Jim Falls Sturgeons 1 (7 innings) at Jim Falls
Chippewa Falls Lumberjacks over Tilden Tigers by forfeit
Osseo Merchants received a bye
Eau Claire Bears 11, Beef River 1 (8 innings) at Bloomer
Osseo Merchants 11, Chippewa Falls Lumberjacks 2 at Osseo
With the Bears and the Merchants emerging from the fracas, the WBA subsequently ruled that all Tilden players who had played for the Bears in the CRBL’s non-sanctioned WBA Qualifying Tournament would not be eligible to play in the upcoming WBA tournament, which was admirably hosted by the Spooner Cardinals on August 14th-16th. Stemming from that decision, what predictably ensued over the next several days was an embarrassing display of unproductive finger pointing, bickering and short-sighted posturing between the involved CRBL managers and WBA officials, all of it taking place in the public’s eye across the forums of social media, print media, and broadcast media. The end result was that the WBA did not reverse their decision, the Tilden players were unable to suite up for the WBA tournament, and the long-cultivated image of the CRBL as a respected and well-run amateur baseball league was unnecessarily damaged.
At Spooner, the Bears lost their two games in pool play (5-3 to River Falls and 3-2 to Everest), while Osseo split their two contests (beating Glidden 4-2 and losing to Hayward 4-0). Neither CRBL squad advanced to the Final 8.
Thus, the unforgettable season that many wish they could completely forget was concluded. Hopefully, history will illustrate that all involved with the CRBL throughout this five-month dumpster fire were successfully able to move forward and intelligently set aside their own self-interests and disorganization in order to functionally get the CRBL back on the diamond.