CVIndependent

Mon08102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

There was no Palm Springs Power baseball on Friday, May 29—what was supposed to be team’s opening day.

Rather than an umpire calling out “Play ball!” and cheers from the crowd wafting on hot evening breezes, Palm Springs Stadium—like virtually all baseball stadiums around the country—was empty, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to play some sort of season later in the summer,” said Power vice president of baseball operations Justin Reschke during a recent phone interview. “Kind of the silver lining in this is that the college players who would come out to play for the team are (uncertain) if they’re going back to school, and they are very eager to play. We have local players, and even from other parts of Southern California, who are close enough to commute back and forth for Power games. So we’re not looking at bringing in 30-35 (collegiate) players from all over the country—like we normally would—and having them stay with host families like we have (in the past).

The Power is usually the leading team in the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League, and consists of college players—usually, at least—from around the country.

“If, at some point this summer,” Reschke said, “we’re allowed to open up and host games for even a small number of fans, that would be kind of our ultimate goal. So we don’t have a definite plan for the Power, but we have players who are eager to play. We have coaches who are willing to get on the field. We’ve heard from dozens of fans who call our office every week for an update. We’re ready to go as soon as we’re able to—but we’re not going to jump the gun and do something before it’s safe and before we’re sure that it’s the right decision.”

In the meantime, team owner Andrew Starke and Reschke have other baseball enterprises that will operate this summer despite the pandemic

“We also operate the Palm Springs Collegiate League, which is a league for all levels of college baseball players,” Reschke said. “Whereas the Power team is mostly focused on Division I college players from all over the country, the collegiate league is focused on Division I, Division III, NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) players and junior-college players. Last year, we had 10 teams in the PSCL, all playing in the mornings at Palm Springs Stadium. The goal (for the players) is to play some summer ball, so that when they go back to campus in the fall, they have improved their game, and they can compete for a more prominent role on their school team.”

The Power brain trust has moved this year’s PSCL program to a little town called Ranger, Texas, onto to the campus of Ranger College.

“The biggest (attraction) was that, in the county where this school is located, they’ve only had four cases (of SARS-CoV-2 virus), and they haven’t had a new case since the middle of April,” Reschke said.

(Since we spoke to Reschke, that total had, as of today, risen to seven, not counting a possible nursing-home cluster.)

“We like the isolation of it,” Reschke said. “And we like that we can go and, essentially, take over this whole college campus for a month and play all of our games in that type of (closed) environment. Everything will be self-contained. The players will be staying on campus, playing there and eating there. The players can get their work in, because a lot of them will not have stepped on a baseball field since March, and they’re eager to get out there.”

Back to Palm Springs and the 2020 Power season, we asked about protocols that might be necessary for players, staff, fans, etc., to observe while operating safely and confidently during games at Palm Springs Stadium.

“We have started to put together our plan,” Reschke said. “Because if Gov. Newsom says sports can resume, and … we can have gatherings of, say, 50 people or whatever (the number) is, we’ve got to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. We’ve reviewed the protocols that the NFL will be using when they return—and obviously, those are a lot more beefed up than what we may be able to do—but we’re looking at what some of the MLB proposals are as well. We’re definitely looking at social-distancing factors, and luckily, Palm Springs Stadium is big enough. It has a seating capacity of around 4,000 (spectators). So if we’re talking a couple of hundred fans in the stands, we can absolutely make sure that (everyone’s) spread out. We’ve got (spray) misters all over the stadium, so wherever they sit, they’re going to be comfortable. We’ll follow whatever local guidelines there are for face masks, and for checking the temperatures of customers who enter the business. Whatever it takes, that’s what we’ll do.

“From the players’ side, we’ve looked at everything from what’s being done with the Korean Baseball Organization, which has been playing for a few weeks now in Korea, with umpires and coaches wearing masks. We’re looking at doing some social distancing with our players, like having players who aren’t actively in the game sit in the stands or stay in the clubhouse while spread apart, because we have two very large clubhouses in the Palm Springs Stadium.”

Fortunately, the potential lost season has not caused an insurmountable financial obstacle for the operation.

“From a revenue standpoint, we do generate revenue from our PSCL, because those players pay a fee to participate in that,” Reschke said. “We generate revenue from our California Winter League, which is kind of the same thing (as the PSCL), but for professional players and aspiring professional players. Those are the two (initiatives) that drive our business (model). The Power is more for the community and the players we commit to giving a spot to play for the summer, as well as the coaches that we work with. Of course, it’s for the community, No. 1, and certainly we want to have fans in the stands so we can entertain them, and let them come in and have a hot dog and a beer and enjoy baseball the way it should be enjoyed.

The Power may play games without fans as well.

“It’s about getting the players on the field. It’s about having something for them,” Reschke said. “We’re there in the stadium whether fans are there, too, or not, so we might as well use it and have something going on. I guess our biggest expense would be turning the lights on, so if there’s no fans, maybe we look at playing earlier in the day—say, in the mornings, when it’s cooler.”

Reschke concluded on an upbeat note: “We’ll be focused first on getting players back on the field, and then we’ll be looking at whether we can have 50 fans, or 200 fans—and what does that look like? Hopefully, there will be some good news, and we’ll see. Obviously, there are a lot of questions.”

For more information, visit palmspringspowerbaseball.com.

Published in Features

On May 8, the Desert Ice Castle announced it was closing for good, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.

“It is with great sadness and regret that—due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and despite our best efforts to remain in business—Desert Ice Castle has no choice but to cease operations, effective immediately,” read the notice at deserticecastle.com, where various equipment from the facility is now on sale.

While the pandemic has caused many valley businesses to close—and will sadly claim many more before it’s all over—COVID-19 may have simply been the final nail in the figurative coffin of the Cathedral City rink.

On April 13, 2018, the Desert Ice Castle filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy with the United States Bankruptcy Court’s Central District of California in Riverside. The rink apparently settled with its creditors, staying open—but on Dec. 13, 2019, Desert Ice Castle, LLP, owned by Anthony Liu, filed both a Certificate of Dissolution and a Certificate of Cancellation with California’s Secretary of State Office.

Regardless of the cause of the Desert Ice Castle’s demise, the closure left Coachella Valley hockey-lovers devastated.

“I was really sad, and kind of emotional,” said Katie Evans, president of the Coachella Valley Youth Hockey Foundation. “For me personally—speaking now as just a hockey mom and not as the foundation president—my son has spent six years of his life in that rink. He’s made some of his very best friends in that building, and so have I. We’ve gotten to know wonderful people in our community while we’re standing together against the glass watching our kids play, and he has spent wonderful moments on the ice and on the bench there. He’s had birthdays there. We’ve celebrated Christmas with our teammates there. So the whole idea of that building not being there anymore is just really sad. It’s meant a lot to us. It’s been an important place in our lives, and we’re just really sad that it won’t be around anymore.

“From the perspective of the Hockey Foundation or anyone who’s involved in hockey locally, it’s a tough pill to swallow. Our hockey programs (have been) so great here, and we have so many wonderful coaches and players. We’ve already struggled (in the past) to keep those programs robust. Now, of course, not having a local rink will (make it) difficult for players and their families to keep playing.”

Adults who relied on the ice rink—the only regulation-size hockey rink within at least 50 miles—for their skating enjoyment have been left in the lurch as well. Justin Reschke, the vice president of business operations for the Palm Springs Power Baseball Club, has been a player in the Ice Castle’s Adult Hockey League for six years.

“I was disappointed. I was sad,” Reschke said. “It was something to look forward to each week. After you’ve been playing with the same group of guys for several years, (it’s hard) to have that taken away all of a sudden—especially now, when you’re looking forward to slowly resuming normal activities.

“I guess some of the writing was on the wall, but I don’t think any of us thought when we walked out of the rink the last time back in March, that would be it.”

In order to keep playing, Reschke said he and his teammates will probably start making trips to Riverside.

“The Los Angeles Kings help operate a rink out there, and many players who lived here and played at DIC have also played out in Riverside,” he said. “It’s a little farther drive, but I’m sure we’ll figure out carpools. There were five teams in our league, so, from across the whole league, we should be able to get, hopefully, a couple of full teams to head out there.”

Evans said her group remains committed to helping keep local hockey kids on the ice.

“The foundation is here to support players and their families.” Evans said. “So we’ll focus on continuing that effort, whatever needs to happen. If our players decide that they’re going to go play in Riverside or Ontario, or another rink that’s within driving distance, we’ll do our best to support them. Maybe it will be by helping with the player fees, because now the parents would be spending lots of money on gasoline. Or maybe someone needs a scholarship, or we can help out again with gear.

“We’ll look at ways to continue to support our local players until there’s another facility that they can use here locally,” Evans said. “And we have high hopes for that. The (American Hockey League) team that’s intending to come and play in Palm Springs is a big deal. It would provide a facility again—the proposed Palm Springs arena home to the AHL team would include two ice rinks—and hopefully, (it will bring) more attention to hockey as a sport.

“And who knows? I don’t know how long it will take to build that rink, but maybe another opportunity will arise where someone else builds a rink.”

While the pandemic and the resulting financial crisis have cancelled sports, live entertainment and large events for the time being, work is apparently proceeding on the New Arena at Agua Caliente. For a status update, the Independent reached out to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which connected us with the Oak View Group, the company that will operate the arena.

“The New Arena at Agua Caliente in Palm Springs will feature two ice rinks, and we anticipate that in addition to its place as the home of AHL Palm Springs, that it will be accessible to the Coachella Valley ice-sports community,” said John Bolton, senior vice president of entertainment with the Oak View Group, in a statement. “Given the current unprecedented times, discussions around arena construction timelines continue, and we will provide updates when available as we work closely with the city of Palm Springs and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.”

Reschke said he is keeping his fingers crossed that construction remains on schedule.

“It would be tremendous to have a new rink that’s a top-notch facility right here in the community of Palm Springs,” Reschke said. “That’s something that a lot of the players at the Ice Castle had a lot of interest in. So let’s hope that’s still part of the plan and that it’s still on schedule for 2021, or close to it. Then, hopefully, we can get on it right away and reinvigorate the adult hockey community right here in the Coachella Valley.”

Published in Features