BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji Blue Ox amateur baseball team is seeking permission to begin playing games in Bemidji, though it’s not looking likely at this moment.
The Minnesota Baseball Association last week decided to permit teams to play exhibition and league games, as long as they receive permission from their home municipalities and ballpark owners. The MBA has required teams to follow safety protocols and fans will need to practice social distancing.
The decision goes against the Minnesota Department of Health’s COVID-19 guidelines, which consider baseball to be a “medium-risk” activity. Games are not yet permitted for medium-risk sports, though Gov. Tim Walz has said games could be allowed as soon as July 1.
The Blue Ox are seeking permission from the City of Bemidji and Bemidji State University to play games at the BSU Baseball Field, though player/manager Cody Rutledge isn’t optimistic.
“It’s not looking good as of right now for playing at BSU,” he said.
The Blue Ox looked at playing games elsewhere, and scheduled an exhibition for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 19, against the Moorhead Brewers in Fargo, N.D., where there are no restrictions on games.
“We’re all itching to get going here,” Rutledge said of his teammates. “They’re asking when we can get games scheduled and who we can play.”
More than 80 ballparks have been approved to hold activities, according to the MBA website. Marble is the only team in the Northwest Border League (which also includes Bemidji and teams in Thief River Falls, Roseau and Warroad) to receive approval to play games, as of Thursday afternoon. Other nearby ballparks to permit games are Ada, Erskine and Perham.
A look at the 2020 Blue Ox
While the Blue Ox await word on when they can play home games, the team has already begun practicing for the 2020 season.
The Blue Ox will look to make a return trip to the Class C state tournament after advancing to the quarterfinals last year, their fourth state appearance in six seasons. They’ll have a host of new players, including Bemidji High School graduate Otto Grimm, a redshirt freshman on the University of Minnesota baseball team this past season.
“The team’s roster is looking really good this year,” Rutledge said. “That’s one reason we’re really excited to get out there and play. Having a kid of Otto’s caliber coming back and playing for his hometown team is pretty special.”
Rutledge, Mitch Hendricks and Connor McNallan each hit over .400 last summer and are back in the batting order. Brenden Gillies will anchor the pitching staff with McNallan, Hendricks and Caleb Carlson completing the rotation.
“I’d say our strength is we’re bringing back most of our lineup from the last two or three years,” Rutledge said. “And then we’ve got our No. 1 pitcher back healthy this summer and we’ve got a couple new faces that hopefully will fill some roles for us.”