OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Tuesday was supposed to be Opening Day at Werner Park for the Omaha Storm Chasers as the team kicked off its 52nd season in Omaha and its tenth in Sarpy County.
However, due to the coronavirus, Minor League Baseball postponed the 2020 season, leaving the Storm Chasers, and soccer partner Union Omaha, waiting to kick off competition this year.
“Today is extremely bittersweet, the photo behind me shows brighter days from the past but I also look at it as brighter days in the future,” said Storm Chasers President Martie Cordaro, while talking in front of a picture of Werner Park.
Cordaro said with minor league baseball and USL League One on hold the Storm Chasers temporarily furloughed six of its 30 staff members while Union Omaha furloughed five of its 15 full-time staff members. As well, nearly 400 employees that work a home game are being affected financially with the games on hold.
“This is real business,” Cordaro said. “We have an economic impact of up to $20-million annually.”
“It’s just weird to not be calling a ballgame, to not be around the team, the fans, the coaches, this is just weird,” said Jake Eisenberg, the Storm Chasers new play-by-play broadcaster.
Eisenberg was planning on starting work with the team a few weeks ago, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, he’s been staying out in his hometown in New York.
“If there’s no baseball, there’s no play by play for baseball for the most part,” Eisenberg said.
Cordaro said the Storm Chasers applied for and received funds for Small Business Association Paycheck Protection Program loan. This loan helped pay debts incurred over the past few weeks, including its bond payments to Sarpy County for use of Werner Park. With close to 70-percent of revenues coming between March and July, Cordaro said the coronavirus is taking a major league hit on minor league baseball.
“Expenses continued onward. A number of those expenses were already committed to are paid for but the revenues didn’t come in for the most part,” Cordaro said.
Unlike Major League Baseball, it doesn’t financially make sense for the Storm Chasers to play games in empty stadiums. Currently Minor League Baseball and the Pacific Coast League have no plans on when the 2020 season will start. However, Cordaro said there will be a time when the team can help the Omaha community rebuild after this pandemic.
“I argue we will be essential for the healing of our metro area and baseball will be part of the healing and an essential part of the healing when the country opens back up,” Cordaro said.
The Storm Chasers are still keeping busy with the Omaha community. On Tuesday night, fans could participate in “Chasers Takeout” where they could pick up ballpark food for Take-Out Tuesday. As well, on Saturday evening the Storm Chasers are doing a fireworks show at Werner Park where fans can park their car and watch the show.
As well on Tuesday, Storm Chasers and Union Omaha owner Gary Green donated 45,000 medical masks to Nebraska Medicine, CHI Health, Methodist Health System and OrthoNebraska for healthcare workers to use when taking care of patients.
Watch reporter Phil Bergman’s story in the above video.