Tri-City Dust Devils embrace a return to baseball; shift to High-A West league

Tri City Dust Devils
Image credit: Tri-City Dust Devils, Facebook

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – While the sports world adapted to a pandemic landscape last March, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) was left in the dust. The entire 2020-21 MiLB season was canceled due to COVID-19, leaving many small-market teams and their employees without jobs. A national network of 160 teams was shaved down to 120 and the Tri-City Dust Devils were on the chopping block until they were saved by their guardian angels — The Los Angeles Angels, that is.

This past offseason, the Angels decided to absorb the Dust Devils into their system, signing a 10-year contract to build a developmental affiliate in Southeastern Washington. This news was a great joy for the Tri-City minor league program, but what came next only accelerated the team’s growth.

Shortly after the acquisition, it was announced that the Tri-City Dust Devils were placed into the High-A West league — A brand new minor league for the highest-quality prospects from teams located in the Pacific Northwest. That means the Tri-City Dust Devils, who begin their regular season this Tuesday, will play an expanded schedule with a deeper talent pool that ever before.

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“We’ve gone from 38 home games to 60 this year, and then we’re going to pick up another six next year,” Tri-City Dust Devils GM Derrel Ebert confirmed to KAPP-KVEW.

Having the security of a 10-year deal provides a foundation for the Dust Devils to build on. Ebert, who also serves as the team’s Vice President, noted that the partnership allows for more branding opportunities and collaborative efforts between the Angels organization and Tri-City leadership. Though this pairing may ruffle some feathers in the Tri-Cities — the Angels are a direct competitor of the Seattle Mariners — it was the right fit for Ebert.

Growing up near Anaheim, CA, Ebert grew up an Angels fan. He captured his first foul ball at just 2-years-old at Angels Stadium and keeps it in his office here in the Tri-Cities. His brother even played in the Angels’ development system as a pitcher, so the family ties run deep. Even with that being the case, Ebert’s allegiance lies with the Tri-Cities and its devoted fans who’ve supported the team since he first joined the organization as an intern in 2002.

Ebert worked his way up the ladder, earning his first full-time role as Director of Concessions for the 2005-06 season. He bounced around the MiLB for a few years before returning to the Dust Devils full-time in 2010. However, this season poses new challenges due to the array of rules that minor league teams are required to uphold for public safety.

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Normally, the organization finds creative and innovative ways to help players feel safe and comfortable in the Tri-Cities. Over the years, that’s resulted in roughly 60 Tri-City Dust Devils making the jump from the minors to the majors. However, the recent shift to the High-A West League means that the quality of players is on the rise.

Unfortunately, pandemic-imposed restrictions are making it a bit harder to greet these players with a warm Tri-Cities welcome.

“Typically, in normal years, they would stay with host families,” Ebert said of the team’s players. “That part is really welcoming since the families take them in and kind of adopt them. For us, it’s not really an option to do that this year with COVID.”

That isn’t the only COVID-19-related restriction the team will have to uphold. Not only will Ebert and the Dust Devils’ management have to keep their distance from players, but there will be in-ballpark restrictions. Spectators are required to wear masks unless they’re eating or drinking, per guidance from the MLB. There also won’t be as much fan interaction with players due to social distancing guidelines.

In the wake of adversity, the Tri-City Dust Devils are on the verge of their most important season in years. The team’s season begins on Tuesday night when they host the Vancouver Canadians for a 6-game series at Gesa Stadium in Pasco. Individual tickets and ticket packages are available now on the Tri-City Dust Devils website here.

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