As we wait (and HOPE) for Major League Baseball to start in the coming days, believe it or not there are already American teams already playing in the newly formed Constellation Energy League. The Constellation Energy League was born from a conversation between Roger Clemens ('member him?) and Sugar Land Skeeters President Christopher Hill. After consulting with team ownership, Hill and the rest of the Skeeters team have worked tirelessly to make the league a reality. The season opener for the Constellation Energy League was July 10th and the 56-game league is currently scheduled to end August 30th.
I know, if you're not from the Houston area you're probably wondering who the Sugar Land Skeeters are. (We've highlighted the Skeeters previously, see our trip to their Holiday Lights event this past winter) The Skeeters are one of the teams that play in the Atlantic League of Independent Baseball. That means they are not affiliated with any major league baseball team. You may have seen them on ESPN in the past when 50 year-old Roger Clemens pitched for the team in 2012. Other notable former major leaguers that have made appearances with the Skeeters include Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Gaetti (former Skeeters Manager), Scott Kazmir, Delwyn Young, Jason Lane, and even former NBA star Tracy McGrady. As impressive as those names are, don't confuse the Skeeters and the Constellation Energy League for a beer league for guys past their prime. The league boasts 19 former Major Leaguers, 13 former 1st round picks, 7 former Top 100 prospects (Baseball America), and 56 players that have reach the Triple-A level.
The Constellation Energy League was established for two reasons: To provide an option for the many minor league players impacted by the MiLB shutdown and to entertain baseball fans in SE Texas. Starting a league from scratch has it's challenges, but finding players was not one of them. Skeeters team President Christoper Hill graciously spoke with me about the league and the highs and lows of being the only game in town. Hill said the biggest challenge was getting uniforms for the four newly created teams. "We had two uniforms (styles) that said "Sugar Land" and two styles that said "Skeeters" so we had two teams..." That left two more uniforms for a league that would be starting in approximately a month. "Roger (Clemens) had a guy" and that took care of the 3rd team. The uniform for the fourth team would require an unusual solution. He explained, "Rawlings is our uniform supplier, so I called them up to see if they had anything." What they had was leftover jerseys from the AA All-Star game. They were orange and had 'EASTERN' across the front.
Now they had uniforms but they needed to get names and logos for the teams. According to Hill, Roger Clemens had wanted to do a Texas team and they already had Team Skeeters. For team Sugar Land the brainstorming landed on the team's Rally Sloth and when the General Manager suggested the 'Lightning Sloths' the name stuck. But what were they going to do with these orange Eastern jerseys? Hill says they wanted the name to have a connection with current events and the pandemic but without any negative connotations. Most teams names are associated with an animal, so they started there. "My option got shot down", Hill laughed. Ultimately they settled on the Eastern Reyes del Tigre, and it is glorious.
Hill says starting the league has been the biggest challenge of his career, but he also knows challenges still lay ahead. "There's a ton of pressure on everybody to just accomplish something...and the rug may be pulled out from us tomorrow." There is local pressure to enact another 2 week shutdown in the Houston area which would have obvious ramifications for the league. In the meantime, the league faces some interesting challenges that we may see shortly in MLB including short outings from pitchers as they build up arm strength and pace of play concerns. This past weekend all four games in the league went longer than 3 hours. That might not sound bad at first blush, but these were double-headers so that meant only 7-inning games.
Besides already playing games the other thing that sets the Constellation Energy League apart is the fans. As you can see from the graphic above, fans are allowed to be in attendance with some strict guidelines. The games themselves have proved to be quite popular. The Skeeters can been seen online via fuboTV and Hill shared that one of recent games was rated the #1 sporting event this year on the service. So, what it's like to realize you pulled it off? You have the only American baseball league, you have fans in the stands, and it's been extremely popular? Hill says , "There's no time to enjoy it" because there so much to do to keep it open. Ok, that's not entirely true. After the season opener, after all the fans had gone, he gathered his team for a small celebration. They walked out to second base and drank beverages in a socially distant circle and soaked in the fruits of their labor. Thirty minutes later, it was back to reality and what needed to be done for the next day and beyond. I'm raising my own beverage and toasting Chris Hill, the Skeeters, and the Constellation Energy League. This baseball fan appreciates the effort you've made and can't wait for the next game! Note: The Constellation Energy League games are broadcast locally on AT&T SportsNet or online at https://www.meridix.com/channel/?liveid=skeeters#/