Comeback of the Century: RiverDogs discover success despite COVID-ravaged seasons

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the sports world in 2020 and 2021, and teams in each sport at each stage had to find methods to adapt a lot much less succeed. The Charleston Riverdogs discovered both.
On a late September night, two minor league baseball groups discovered themselves in a position to win it all – a place that both may hardly imagine given the chaos COVID-19 had brought to the previous and current season.
After struggling a suspended season the spring prior, this was a recreation no person knew if it was even going to occur, and now it was coming all the means down to the wire with a decisive Game 5 in the championship. Both groups understood the circumstances – it was all or nothing.
The Charleston RiverDogs weren’t going to let this one slip away. Having taken the primary game of the best-of-five Low-A East Championship Series, the RiverDogs won an exciting second recreation by breaking a tie within the ninth. The Down East Wood Ducks would win the following two to pressure a tie-breaking Game 5 to win it all.
But it was the RiverDogs who could be topped champions, earning the primary title in franchise historical past with the 9-2 victory and in addition bringing the first championship for a professional baseball team to the city of Charleston since 1922.
For many, the pandemic that started in early 2020, continued by way of 2021 and continues to be raging in 2022, has been a time to overlook. A time filled with hardship, loss, sadness and remorse.
It’s difficult to shine any mild on such a tragic time, however Charleston’s minor league baseball group was a light, defying all odds and constructed a championship profitable staff for the primary time in a long time.
As a Low-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Charleston RiverDogs have had four different team names over the course of a 99-year championship drought.
Because of that, no person could have predicted the success that was coming their method. After an abrupt suspension of virtually all sports in 2020, introduced a mere few weeks earlier than opening day, minor league baseball was left to fend for itself.
When discussions had been being held in early March 2020 regarding the potential of a suspended season, the RiverDogs had been compelled to react and adapt to the incoming challenges.
After reeling in almost $74 million in revenue in 2018, Charleston knew it was going to have to change issues up if the RiverDogs have been going to maintain bringing in money. The organization depends closely on ticket gross sales and merchandise, two funnels of income that became non-existent.
Chris Singleton, RiverDogs’ director of ticket gross sales, says the early discussions concerned lots of guesswork.
“At first we had been left in the lifeless of night, there wasn’t lots of info being spread to us that we may relay to our fans in regards to the season being suspended,” he said.
The preliminary worry in regards to the suspended season was stored from the group, in addition to the fans, leaving an much more tough scenario for the gamers, coaches, and front employees to plan for.
During a time when nobody knew what was going to occur, the RiverDogs acted rapidly to find alternative ways to get their gamers and coaches concerned locally and keep that good relationship.
For some, this downtime was tougher than others, particularly within the front office.
Jason Kempf, RiverDogs’ director of broadcasting and media relations, had just moved right here from the Midwest and located navigating the brand new enjoying field even more challenging than normal.
“I was trying to prepare for a season that began in a couple months, in a model new place, and abruptly this happened,” he stated. “I was like OK…what do I do now?”
Once the season was suspended, everyone was despatched residence, even the workers within the front office. There was no push for content material throughout this time as a outcome of everyone was in quarantine; it was the lowest level of the 2020 season for the RiverDogs.
There was a dire want for various content material to be pushed out to the community to maintain everyone involved and the team afloat.
The staff started shifting all its give attention to serving to the neighborhood through companies, or doing local zoom calls with college students, or even enjoying baseball video video games with them.
Ben Azbug, assistant General Manager, believed staying linked with the community throughout such a troublesome time was actually important for the staff and followers.
“Since we weren’t capable of host events for our followers, how can we do proper by those that help assist and cheer for our business,” he said.
The RiverDogs took their talents from the sector and implemented them into the community, which Azbug believes was a huge contributor to their successful 2021 season.
“You do not play well if you do not have good followers, and we now have a variety of the finest fans in the whole nation,” he stated. “It was necessary for us to show how much we care about them.”
After months of time aside, zoom calls, and completely no baseball in 2020, it was time for the RiverDogs 2021 season to get back into motion.
Picodiscovery were tremendous excited for the games to start out, however we knew it was essential to have these conversations about spectator safety, and being sensible in regards to the pandemic,” says Singleton.
The stadium initially opened up with very low capacity, as sort of a test run to see if the initial pointers have been going to be effective for the precise quantity of followers that come to the sport.
“I thought our first actions had been with good intentions, we had been eager to convey fans back but we needed it to be a protected surroundings,” Singleton added.
Azbug defined how the stadium shifted to a cashless venue, implemented social distancing, and opened multiple entry and exit ways into the stadium.
“It was definitely a shift in really feel for the guys within the clubhouse, but it seems like we all did properly in adjusting to the new regular, you can name it,” Azbug mentioned.
The RiverDogs 2021 season started in full swing in late March, and fans began trickling in more and more as the games glided by, and the staff continued to win.
The RiverDogs had been blowing teams out, profitable multiple games in a row and sitting on the prime of the leaderboards just a few months into the season.
“Early on we felt we had something special, nobody realized it as a end result of there were extra important matters at hand but as soon as we received again to doing what we do best, we excelled,” says Azbug.
Players who have been invited again after the suspension had been hungry, they needed to win more than ever and show themselves that their team is value preserving in the future
“We did not know if we were going to return again, some gamers did not have assured contracts or cash to play, so once we did come again, they wished it greater than ever,” says Azbug.
In a season the place a lot doubt was being placed on the gamers, they responded like by no means earlier than and transitioned into an excellent and profitable baseball group.
“I’ve mentioned it earlier than and I’ll say it again, we gained because of our followers, and our gamers’ dedication to the game of baseball,” Azbug added. “I haven’t been part of a company that has such a fantastic attitude.”
The RiverDogs went on to win eighty two video games in the 2021 season, placing them at the prime of the standings in time for playoffs.
They cruised to the finals where they defeated the Down East Wood Ducks to win their first championship in almost one hundred years
The assistant basic manager wasn’t stunned by the team’s performance, however followers blew him away.
“I wasn’t essentially shocked by the expertise of the team, but the reception from the group, mixed with the dedication of the players created one thing really special,” said Azbug.
It was a near precise 100 12 months drought for this staff, one of many largest in recorded professional baseball historical past, this group fought in opposition to all odds to safe a championship.
Even after such a successful season, the job nonetheless is not carried out. The RiverDogs nonetheless face immense strain and expectations to construct and maintain this newfound success in 2022 and past.
But Kempf says the franchise is absolutely right here for that challenge.
The RiverDogs have set their sights on bigger and better issues in the future, as Singleton hints at some upcoming initiatives they’ve been working on.
“We have adapted to the occasions, and utilized tons of digital and social media retailers that we didnt reap the benefits of earlier than,” he said. “It wasn’t that we did not assume it was value it nevertheless it wasn’t our focus, and now after the 2020 season, we perceive the significance of social media and staying related in the neighborhood.”
Singleton added that its social media and neighborhood outreach departments have been “grinding non-stop to turn out to be a platform that we feel is suitable for our fans, and we’re excited for what comes subsequent.”
The Tampa Bay Rays will send the RiverDogs their new set of gamers like yearly, however this time is going to be a bit completely different. They have expectations, and many within the group are refusing to accept something less than being at the prime once more.
“We are incredibly lucky to come back out of this case like we’ve, and to not say we didn’t lose a couple of soldiers on the way in which, but overall we are very pleased with our position heading into next season,” says Azbug..

Scroll to Top