sports_hotrods081719_12

Hot Rods first baseman Seaver Whalen gets a hit during a 2019 game against Dayton at Bowling Green Ballpark.

The Bowling Green Hot Rods are scheduled to return to the field May 4 at the Greenville (S.C.) Drive and are scheduled to open play at Bowling Green Ballpark one week later against the Asheville (N.C.) Tourists – just part of the 120-game slate unveiled Thursday.

After having the entire 2020 season wiped out, Bowling Green Hot Rods Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Eric Leach said it is nice to have a targeted return date now set.

“We have an actual, physical schedule and they have done a great job of getting us as many home games as possible during this COVID crisis,” Leach said.

When the 2021 season begins, there will be plenty of changes for the Hot Rods from the final game in the 2019 season.

Bowling Green is now the High-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, accepting a new 10-year agreement last week, and will be part of the newly formed East League.

“It is a whole new chapter of Hot Rods baseball,” Leach said. “We move up a level. We switch leagues – the third time we’ve switched leagues. It’s a conglomerate of four different leagues. You got some teams from the New York Penn League, some teams from the Carolina League, the South Atlantic and of course us from the Midwest League. A lot of the fans are going to see some new teams and some new affiliates come through Bowling Green Ballpark.”

Among the teams in the new East League are the Atlanta Braves affiliate Rome, Ga., and Hudson Valley, N.Y. – which used to be the Rays’ Low A short season franchise, but is now the High A affiliate for the New York Yankees.

While the Hot Rods will renew rivalries with a few of the teams it faced in the South Atlantic League in the franchise’s inaugural season in 2009, Bowling Green will no longer face any teams in the Midwest League – which featured affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.

“I loved the Midwest League,” Leach said. “There are a lot of great, wonderful teams and high-end operators and general managers. I am going to miss a lot of the back-and-forth between some of the teams.”

Leach added lots of fans of nearby MLB franchises attended games at Bowling Green Ballpark and he is hopeful that those rivalries can be renewed someday.

“Who knows?” Leach said. “ I have always been a proponent of interleague play. I’m not crossing that off the list that it might now happen now with MLB in charge to where we could play someone like Dayton (the Reds’ affiliate) a little down the road in an interleague matchup.”

The 120-game schedule will feature 20 series – each lasting six games – with 10 at home and 10 on the road. The Hot Rods are scheduled to host Rome and Greenville, the Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads (Texas Rangers), Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds (Baltimore Orioles), Winston-Salem (N.C) Dash (Chicago White Sox), the Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks (Washington Nationals) and Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers (Pittsburgh Pirates).

All series will run from Tuesday through Sunday, with Monday being a league-wide off day.

“It really provides a unique schedule and I am actually a huge fan of it,” Leach said. “How this came about is COVID-related, but I can see this as something that is lasting. It reduces time that the players and staff are on the bus. It reduces the amount of time you have to jump from city to city and it gives you an off day to be able to recuperate and do those long road trips.”

The 2021 champion will be determined by the best regular season record, with no playoffs slated for this season. There will not be an all-star game this year, and according to Leach the all-star game is likely not going to happen for the foreseeable future.

Bowling Green was scheduled to host the 2020 Midwest League All-Star game, which was postponed due to the pandemic. The Hot Rods had an agreement to host in 2021 instead, before the realignment, but that is now off the table.

“That’s a huge disappointment,” Leach said. “We had looked forward to showcasing our city. Maybe one day they will bring them back and we will be able to host it, but for this next year and the near future it looks like that won’t be happening.

“Anyone who had all-star tickets and had not already requested a refund, we will be issuing those real soon.”{&end}

– Follow Hot Rods reporter Micheal Compton on Twitter @mcompton428 or visit bgdailynews.com.