There are a great many caveats to this, but for now we have some official dates for the start of the 2021 minor-league season: Tuesday, April 4* for Triple-A, and Tuesday, May 4 for Double-A/A. The season will go through the penultimate week of September, for 142 total games for Triple-A clubs and 120 for Double-A/A. (The staggered opening dates for the different leagues is due to lower-level minor leaguers arriving at Spring Training only after members of the big-league club have departed at the end of March.)
*The Tacoma Rainiers will play their first game as part of Triple-A West-West (groan) April 8.
Aside from the new alignment structures across minor-league baseball, some tweaks to the 2021 schedule include six-game series (in order to limit travel during the pandemic), and no games on Mondays across most of the leagues (Triple-A West-West has opted for Wednesday off-days, so the Rainiers will be off on Wednesdays).
The minor league season for many clubs starting on one of their biggest moneymaker days (Star Wars Day) would be an excellent jumpstart to the 2021 season, but as J.J. Cooper at Baseball America points out, if MiLB parks are limited to a tiny percentage of capacity, clubs could actually lose money by opening games to fans, given the costs associated with gameday staffing and operations.
For now, the Rainiers are slated to open their season at home at Cheney Stadium against Oklahoma City, the Dodgers affiliate. Tickets aren’t on sale yet, but you can see the whole schedule here and check back for when tickets are available.
Double-A Arkansas will open at home, as well, on May 4 against the NW Arkansas Naturals, their in-state rivals in the Texas League and the Kansas City Royals affiliate. The complete schedule is here.
High-A Everett (that is going to take some getting used to) also released their tentative schedule, which you can find here; currently, they open on the road at the Hillsboro Hops on the 4th before welcoming the Tri-City Dust Devils, now an Angels affiliate, for their home opening series beginning May 11th. No individual games are on sale yet, but you can find information on season ticketing on the Aquasox website.
Low-A Modesto (again, weird) also released their 2021 schedule; they will open 2021 at home at John Thurman Field against the Stockton Ports, the Oakland A’s affiliate.
It’s important to remember these schedules are tentative with a capital T. Commissioner Rob Manfred can opt to delay the start of the Triple-A season all the way until March 15, and one has to imagine given the uncertainty regarding the status of the pandemic that Manfred will be weighing that decision until the 11th hour. The Rainiers’ opener, in particular, is a dicey one, as travel in the former PCL is some of the most spread-out among any league, and the Rainiers open their season with a trip halfway across the country. Unless MLB is springing for charter flights, current MLB health and safety protocols would be violated if a Rainiers player were to take a commercial flight from OKC back to Tacoma and then be called up to Seattle.
Even when the Rainiers return to Tacoma, current coronavirus restrictions in the state dictate, under Phase 2, a maximum of 200 individuals in an open-air environment, like the stadia at Cheney or Funko Field. Subtracting players, coaches, and game day staff, that leaves precious few seats for spectators. So while we might be celebrating the return of minor-league baseball, for the time being, it looks like we’ll have to do so from a safe distance.