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Pit Spitters to get rid of Dune Bears due to COVID-19 outbreak, hope to resume season

Young fans watch a Traverse City Pit Spitters game during the 2019 season.
Dan Wanschura
Interlochen Public Radio

After starting last week, the Traverse City Pit Spitters season has been put on hold. The same goes for the newly created Great Lakes Resorters and Northern Michigan Dune Bears.

Several players recently tested positive for COVID-19 which prompted the pause.



“The players were doing mostly very well at social distancing and taking this stuff seriously, but somewhere along the line, somehow one of the guys got it and then it spread a little bit,” said frustrated Pit Spitters general manager Mickey Graham. “We thought at that point it was just best to pause the season.”


The organization is doing additional testing on players and staff and hopes to resume the season on Friday, July 10th.


At a time when many other minor league teams and college teams cancelled their 2020 seasons due to COVID-19, the Pit Spitters came up with a creative plan to still have a season.


Since traveling on a confined bus to play other teams was risky, the organization created two entirely new teams – the Great Lakes Resorters and the Northern Michigan Dune Bears – to all play at Turtle Creek Stadium in Traverse City. 


Players were screened daily for symptoms and social distancing and precautions were put in place to prevent the spread of the virus. But it wasn’t enough.


“We thought the plan was sound,” said Graham. “The one thing that we couldn’t always account for was human behavior, and when you’re getting a group of younger men together for this sometimes decisions are made that may not be in the best interests of everybody, and that’s probably what caught up to us.”


Beyond the fact that multiple players from several teams were infected with the virus, Graham didn’t offer many specifics. He did say it’s probably the end of the line for infected players, but didn’t rule out some of them coming back when they're cleared. In the meantime, Graham says they are looking for new players to replace those that are infected and quarantined.


“These are college players, so the rosters can be typically fluid, depending on the schedules of these guys,” Graham said. “A lot of college leagues have canceled this summer, so there’s a lot of players that are out there." 


Instead of just screening for symptoms, the new protocol now is to test the players at a rapid response testing site in Lansing, before they arrive in Traverse City. 


Graham says part of the current restart plan is to only have two teams play – the Pit Spitters and the Great Lakes Resorters. That means the Northern Michigan Dune Bears team only lasted two games.


“We think that’s the way to go now,” Graham said. “Probably better to keep a limited number of players on site in town to limit the amount of exposure points that could possibly be out there.”


As for fan interest, early results were promising. The first four games sold out at the reduced capacity of 500 fans per game. Graham says he doesn’t think those who attended a game should be worried about exposure, as the organization has gone “above and beyond” to protect the fans. Staff members wear masks at the ballpark and seating is arranged to socially distance people from each other.


“There’s a lot of measures that we’ve taken here,” Graham said. “And one of those measures was limiting the fan – player interaction. That was done in case something like this happened, and we’re glad we had those measures in place." 


Despite the setback, Graham said he thinks it’s possible to be safe and still have a baseball season this year, one that could start as soon as this Friday, July 10th. 


A revised Pit Spitters schedule is expected in the next couple days.

Dan Wanschura is the Host and Executive Producer of Points North.