For those that love the game of baseball, this week figures to generate a great deal of excitement.
Finally, after a four-month delay due to the pandemic and an ugly labor dispute that threatened to shut down things entirely, Major League Baseball’s regular season begins Thursday, July 23, 2020.
For Donnie Dewees, though, the wait to get back on the field will go on for much, much longer. There will be no salvaging of the Minor League Baseball season; in an unprecedented move all seasons were canceled a few weeks ago. That was a technicality considering COVID-19 had prevented them from ever starting and left no practical avenue for them to be safely played out.
Dewees, a 2012 graduate of Crystal River High, should be in the midst of his sixth professional season, back with the Chicago Cubs organization that originally drafted him. Instead he’s back home, having recently moved to Tampa.
"I’m in a holding pattern, staying prepared and ready," Dewees said. "It is what it is. You can’t control it. But it stinks being in a situation where for an entire year you’re not playing baseball."
The fate of minor league players has been a hot-button topic of discussion even before the pandemic hit. Going back to late last year there was talk of 42 minor league affiliates being eliminated.
Then during the months of hiatus brought on by the pandemic, some MLB teams drew harsh criticism for releasing minor leaguers or deciding not to pay their salaries. The Cubs are among the franchises that have reportedly agreed to pay their minor leaguers a $400 weekly stipend at least through July 31.
"That’s half what I would make in a season," Dewees said. "But it’s still something to live off."
A 26-year-old left-handed outfielder, a second-round draft pick by the Cubs in 2015 after a stint at the University of North Florida, Dewees has appeared in 566 minor league games over his career. He worked his way up to Triple-A in 2018 while within the Kansas City Royals organization.
Dewees was traded to the Royals in February of 2017. On March 8, 2019, he was sent back to the Cubs in exchange for pitcher Stephen Ridings.
"The last two years have been good. It’s been kind of crazy with the trades and all that," Dewees said. "It’s been a fun ride. There have been ups and downs. Sometimes things go well, sometimes things don’t. … It’s awesome being back (with the Cubs)."
In 2019 he played his first full season at Triple-A, with the Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League. He hit .253 in 111 games, with 16 home runs and 52 RBI while scoring 60 runs with a .334 on-base percentage.
After the season he played in the Dominican Winter League for Gigantes del Cibao, hitting .301 while scoring 14 runs and stealing eight bases in 27 games. Then in the spring he made his first appearance in big league camp, playing in nine contests. In 17 plate appearances he hit .313, with two homers, seven RBI and seven runs scored.
"It was about midway through Spring Training and I got the call to go home," Dewees said. "I was doing really well. It was looking good for me."
He has found his way back on the field in another capacity. He’s been coaching an 18U travel ball team comprised of players from around the state. It was an opportunity he heard about through an old coach.
"It’s new. I’m learning. But it’s been fun," Dewees said. "It’s nice to be around the game and see guys who want to play the game and enjoy it."
It also provides him with a chance to keep up with his throwing. He may not be part of the Cubs’ 60-man player pool for the upcoming season, however that could change.
"It’s kind of tough because it’s hard right now to practice baseball," Dewees said. "I’m adjusting to it. I try to find ways around it.
"I need to be prepared and ready to go at all times. I’m just throwing and hitting and working out, and doing everything I’d do to prepare for Spring Training or the regular season."