Jumbo Shrimp baseball season officially canceled due to coronavirus

First season in Jacksonville without pro baseball since 1969

Wednesday was supposed to be the opening day for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. Instead, the team celebrated with a virtual opening day online. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The minor league baseball season was officially canceled Tuesday afternoon, ending the seasons of teams like the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp before they began and shifting focus to the next phase of planning for teams.

For the Jumbo Shrimp, the Double A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, a lost season of baseball is not only a financial dagger, but deprived the area of professional baseball for the first time since 1969. Jumbo Shrimp owner Ken Babby called the news “devastating.” The team has rolled with the turmoil as best as possible, staging movie nights and Thirsty Thursdays and even planning fireworks for July 3. Those types of events will continue.

“The news that we will not have Jumbo Shrimp baseball at 121 Financial Ballpark is devastating,” Jumbo Shrimp owner/CEO Ken Babby said in a statement. “While we are disappointed there will be no Jumbo Shrimp baseball in 2020, we are looking forward to the many socially-distanced and safe events that continue to bring Affordable Family Fun to our community.”

The Jumbo Shrimp have been one of the top franchises in minor league baseball, drawing 327,388 fans in 2019, second most in the Southern League, and an increase of more than 10,000 fans from the previous year. The Jumbo Shrimp have ranked in the top 25 of minor league baseball merchandise sales in back-to-back seasons, a first for the franchise. The Jumbo Shrimp took on that name and branding in November 2016, replacing the Jacksonville Suns.

In a statement, Minor League Baseball president and CEO Pat O’Conner said that the organization will look to recover and focus on next year.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played. While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment,” O’Conner said.

The cancellation of the minor league season wasn’t exactly a secret. Major League Baseball’s attempt to start its season was a contentious and very public battle that dragged out for months.

Last week, the league announced an abbreviated 60-game season that is set to resume July 23 and 24 after a brief spring training period. Several players have opted out of the restart.

While the expectation that minor league baseball would be scrapped wasn’t a surprised, it’s still a shock to have no professional baseball in the area.

According to Jacksonville baseball history on MiLB.com, professional baseball began in the area in 1904 when the Jacksonville Jays were founded and played in the South Atlantic League.

“We are incredibly disappointed and crushed to not have a Jumbo Shrimp baseball season at 121 Financial Ballpark in 2020,” said Jumbo Shrimp executive vice president/general manager Harold Craw said in a statement. “We still look at ourselves as leaders in part of the safe reopening of Jacksonville, and safety for our fans and staff will always be our top priority. Thanks to the trust instilled by the community, we are providing alternative affordable and fun outdoor and socially-distanced events at 121 Financial Ballpark. We will hopefully await Jumbo Shrimp baseball to return in 2021.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.