Ask Winnipeg Goldeyes manager Rick Forney how challenging it's been playing away from Shaw Park for the past two seasons and he'll begin to chuckle.
Where to even begin?
"Well, it starts in the offseason when you're trying to put your team together and you're calling players and telling them who you are and who you work for," Forney said in a phone interview.
"Players know that the Canadian border is closed. Just the fact that you're trying to build a team without a place to play, you don't even know what to tell them or where you're going to play. It's very difficult."
It was determined the Fish would play this season in Jackson, Tenn., until the Canada-U.S. border situation allowed for them to return to their downtown Winnipeg ballpark. The Goldeyes, who were 30-31 heading into Tuesday night's contest in Sioux City against the Explorers, went 18-15 at The Ballpark at Jackson despite averaging a league-worst 579 fans per contest.
"We had a home schedule playing in Jackson, but it's not our home. You're playing in an empty ballpark and it's a grind," Forney said.
"You just don't get excited for it every day. Players need that little adrenaline boost every night. When you're playing every day, it can be exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally on you. You need that little boost from someone rooting you on and we've been without that for the past couple years."
The Goldeyes have already said their goodbyes to Jackson as their final game there took place Sunday. After their current six-game road trip, the Fish will make their triumphant return to the Manitoba capital next week and play their real home opener Tuesday evening against Sioux City. There's no capacity limit but fans must be fully vaccinated to attend. The Goldeyes have 20 home games left on the schedule and started selling single-game tickets Tuesday.
Returning to The Great White North doesn't come without it's own fair share of obstacles, though.
"Some of the people that have been on your team all year aren't coming because they're not vaccinated," said Forney.
"You're going through a little bit of a clubhouse breakup as well… No one's team is fully vaccinated and that includes mine. I'll probably have 22-24 guys but they won't be the guys that I've been playing with."
And just how hard is that going to be?
"I guess we'll find out," Forney said. "It's not going to be good."
Forney has already lost his hitting coach Kash Beauchamp as the 58-year-old from southwest Missouri left the team last week as he's not vaccinated and didn't want to follow the American Association's new mask mandate. Some fully vaccinated players and staff on the Lincoln Saltdogs tested positive for the virus leading to the league deciding to enforce a new rule that would make non-vaccinated personnel wear masks on the bench during games. If they didn't comply, the organization would be fined $500 and the fine would double if they violated the rule again.
"I'm respectable of this disease. I know this disease exists, but it has no effect on me," Beauchamp said in an interview from home. "… I told everybody with the team at the beginning of the year, I said if I have to wear a mask or take the vaccine, I'm out."
Beauchamp, who has never contracted COVID-19, said he isn't an anti-vaxxer, but he believes the coronavirus vaccines aren't working and that the Lincoln outbreak is proof.
"What's the point in getting the vaccination if it doesn't work?," he said.
As per the World Health Organization's website, "Vaccination protects you from getting seriously ill and dying from COVID-19," and that "no vaccine is 100 per cent effective and breakthrough infections are regrettable, but to be expected."
Manitoba announced only 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, the lowest case count since September, and has 67.1 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.
Goldeyes owner Sam Katz said it's too soon to speculate on next year and whether or not Beauchamp — who has yet to wear the Fish uniform in Winnipeg as his first season on the job was in 2020 when they were a travelling team based out of Fargo — will be back with the organization.
"Kash is a very black and white situation. He will not be joining the team here. We found someone in Winnipeg who will be filling that role very well," said Katz, who wouldn't reveal who the replacement will be but said it's a familiar face to Fish fans.
"It's a very conscious from Kash because he's not vaccinated and anybody playing for the Goldeyes has to be double-vaxxed. He's made a decision and it's his decision. We respect and honour that decision, but we've told everybody 'If you're not double-vaxxed, you don't work for the Goldeyes.' As far as coaches, players, and managers, that's just black and white, real simple. No discussion on that topic."
The team wouldn't reveal how many players or which ones will not be making the trip to Winnipeg, but you can count on seeing first baseman Kyle Martin on Aug. 3 at Shaw Park. Martin, a Texas native who's hitting .291 on the year with 20 home runs and 68 RBI, said while it's unfortunate to see some teammates and a coach go, but nobody in the clubhouse was trying to sway anyone's decision on the matter.
"They've helped us get this far, but as for the vaccination, that's their personal preference. I'm not going to hold anything against them by any means," Martin said.
"It's their decision, their lives, their bodies. That's where we are, losing some key players, but we're just gonna have to push a little bit harder then. We'll need some of the new guys to step up and help us win a few more games."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.