MADISON, Ala. – Whether you’re in Major League Baseball or the Minor League, for teams it’s all about “Opening Day” and that first pitch. The Rocket City Trash Pandas organization had been gearing up for April 15, 2020, since 2015, but COVID-19 threw a wrench in that plan.
President and CEO of the Trash Pandas, Ralph Nelson said it was tough time for the new team.
“Everything was about that first pitch and then it was taken away, it was very emotional, very devastating, very disappointing for our whole team,” Nelson said.
Fans were ready to hear the crack of a bat on a warm spring day while enjoying their favorite ballpark foods, friends, and family.
But, that was all taken away from them, just like every other spectator throughout the country.
As hard as 2020 was for many professional and minor league teams, Nelson swung into action as soon as he could. Once businesses began to open he stayed himself and the front office got together to formulate a plan. Many minor league organizations laid off their staff, but that wasn’t on Nelson’s agenda.
“I was going to make sure I kept my staff employed,” Nelson told News 19, “I said, ‘This is no longer a baseball business, this is an events business and a merchandising business, and were going to support our team that way’ and they did it. They had 175 events in 215 days, it was just remarkable.”
More than 250,000 people walked through the gates of Toyota Field last year and with all those people Nelson says he’s most proud of how safe they kept everyone, “Not one positive COVID-19 case that could be traced back to Toyota Field, I’m very proud of that.”
He says not only were those events available so that the people of Madison could enjoy the brand new stadium but also to show his appreciation for their support.
But, there was a group of people who were longing to be in the stadium, but couldn’t, the players.
“It was so disappointing, they were all looking forward to coming here, playing in the brand new ballpark with player facilities, and playing in front of big crowds every night and they lost that dream,” Nelson said.
But, the players didn’t lose hope. Many stayed in Arizona and continued training when and where they could. Manager Jay Bell, who lives in Arizona was able to work with some of them while they were there.
Fast forward to 2021 and he says the players are not only ready, but you can start to feel the electricity running through the stadium, “Finally I think everyone is pretty comfortable and that baseball is on its way.”
In just a few weeks, the dugouts will be filled with players and the stands will have fans and Nelson says, they’ve hit it out of the ballpark, “We’ve got a big artist singing the National Anthem, we have a good idea on who the first pitch is.”
While the game is important, Nelson says so is the opportunity to see friends and family and enjoy the ballpark, “People are going to be blown away with all we have planned, from promotions in between innings, fireworks, I mean we have a lot of great things happening.”
Opening days for the Trash Pandas is May 11th, if you would like to purchase your tickets click here.