After a long absence, minor league baseball is set to return to Funko Field in May.
The Everett AquaSox are scheduled to begin their first season as the Seattle Mariners’ High-A affiliate on May 4, when they kick off a six-game series on the road against the Hillsboro Hops.
The AquaSox’s home opener is the following week on May 11, which marks the beginning of a six-game homestand against the Tri-City Dust Devils at Funko Field.
The AquaSox’s 2021 schedule was unveiled Thursday when Major League Baseball announced the schedules for the four levels of its recently restructured minor league system.
Everett, which moved up to the High-A level in the new system, is set to play a 120-game regular-season slate that runs through Sept. 19.
That’s a significant increase from the 76-game schedule the AquaSox played in previous years, when they were a Short Season-A team that began their season in mid-June. But it’s still 12 games shorter than what they’re expected to play as a High-A team in future years, due to this season being delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. In normal years, the AquaSox are expected to play a 132-game schedule beginning in April.
The AquaSox haven’t played a game since Sept. 2, 2019. The minor league baseball seasons were canceled last year because of the pandemic.
This year’s schedule is subject to change due to the pandemic, the AquaSox said in their release.
Under the new minor league setup, Everett is part of the six-team High-A West league. The High-A West includes six of the eight teams from the previous Northwest League — the Short Season-A league that Everett had been part of since its inaugural season in 1984.
The other five teams in the High-A West are the Eugene Emeralds (San Francisco Giants), Hillsboro Hops (Arizona Diamondbacks), Spokane Indians (Colorado Rockies), Tri-City Dust Devils (Los Angeles Angels) and Vancouver Canadians (Toronto Blue Jays).
The AquaSox are slated to play 20 six-game series this season, with each series running Tuesday through Sunday. Monday is a scheduled off day for all six teams in the High-A West.
The schedule is unbalanced. The AquaSox have six series against Vancouver, five against Eugene, four against Spokane, three against Tri-City and two against Hillsboro.
Two familiar opponents from the AquaSox’s Northwest League days — the Boise Hawks and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes — are no longer on their schedule under the new setup. Boise and Salem-Keizer were among the minor league franchises that lost their MLB affiliations as part of the recent contraction that cut the number of affiliated minor league teams from 160 to 120.
The AquaSox remain an affiliate of the Mariners, as they have since 1995. The move to High-A means Everett is now just three steps from the majors on the minor league ladder, as opposed to five steps when it was a Short Season-A club.
With their home opener not until May 11, the AquaSox shouldn’t have as many potential scheduling conflicts this year as they might have in the future.
In normal years, an April start to the season figures to pose logistical challenges. Funko Field, which is part of the Everett Memorial Stadium complex owned by the Everett School District, is used by high school baseball teams and the Everett Community College baseball team during the spring. That wasn’t an issue when the AquaSox opened their season in mid-June. But with an April start, there will be overlap between the seasons.
However, this year’s abbreviated Wesco high school spring sports season is slated to conclude May 8 — three days prior to the AquaSox’s home opener. That means, at the moment, the only potential scheduling conflicts would be with the Everett CC baseball team. The Trojans’ regular season concludes June 6, and there currently are just two dates that the AquaSox and Everett CC have home games scheduled on the same day.
The AquaSox’s game times and promotions will be announced at later dates, according to the team’s release. Fans can place deposits for season tickets, ticket plans, group outings and picnics by calling 425-258-3673 or visiting the AquaSox office at 3802 Broadway in Everett.
“The AquaSox will continue to work with state and local health officials to ensure the safety of our fans is our top priority,” AquaSox general manager Danny Tetzlaff said in the team’s release. “We will do everything we can to provide affordable, family-fun in a safe and clean environment.”