YOUNGSVILLE — Ricky VanAsselberg wears two hats for the Acadiana Cane Cutters.
The longtime baseball man serves not only as the baseball team’s skipper but also as its general manager. That means he has double the responsibility which makes the final days leading up to the start of the newly revamped Texas Collegiate League season a bit daunting.
“When I put my manager’s hat on I am excited and ready to go,” VanAsselberg said. “To be honest with you, I can do that in my sleep. The general manager part of me is overwhelming at times but it is still exciting.”
The Cane Cutters open up the 2020 Texas Collegiate League season at home at Fabacher Field on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. and Grammy winner Wayne Toups is scheduled to sing the National Anthem.
Before that happens, VanAsselberg and his staff are furiously working at placing the finishing touches for the opener which includes everything from the concession stands being stocked to season tickets being printed off.
“The final week is so tough right now,” VanAsselberg said. “We just want to make sure that no one is forgotten. We are making sure that the sponsors are taken care of. So if they have signage that needs to be up then we make sure it is placed by opening day.
“We had to change all the season tickets so we are printing those out and handing them out,” VanAsselberg added. “We are printing up our pocket schedules and placing them out in the community. We are doing run through for game day operations. We are getting the ballpark set up for game day and to rock and roll.”
The Cane Cutters were already ready to rock and roll not once but twice this summer but COVID-19 threw a curveball into those plans.
The league was originally slated to begin its 10th season on May 28th but the pandemic forced the TCL to move the season opener to July 3 and reduce the regular season to 24 games. Then TCL decided to expand the league from four teams to 10, including teams playing at existing minor league ballparks, and expand the season to 30 games and have it begin on June 30.
“When they came in and told us about the six teams coming in to the league it was a little hectic because we had make changes due to sponsors, season tickets but it was also super exciting,” VanAsselberg said. “These kids get to play in these nice minor league ballparks and play cities they haven’t played in before.”
Another possible silver lining is the fact that the Cane Cutters will benefit from a retooled TCL which recently has secured a pay-per-view contract. That means that not only can fans catch the team’s 15 home games in person but they can now watch all of them on the road.
“We started TCL TV which you can get on pay-per-view which you can get for $7.25 per game,” VanAsselberg said. “That is huge for us because we have never done anything like that. It will be league wide. It is real big for us and is going to take our league to the next level.”
VanAsselberg admits that all the changes to the start of the season have caused some logistical challenges for he and his staff but that it hasn’t had a negative impact on the players.
“They were supposed to report on July 1st and then we called them and told them to report on June 25th,” VanAsselberg said. “Then we had to call our host families and tell them that the players were coming early and to see if that was okay. But as for the kids, man if you called those guys and told them to be here right now they would be here. They just want to play baseball.”
VanAsselberg doesn’t believe that the changing of the start dates will affect his roster of current collegiate players who reported to the team on Thursday. What will impact them is the fact that all of their seasons were drastically cut short and canceled due to COVID-19.
“Usually they are game ready because they just got done playing their season,” VanAsselberg said. “They show up two days before start of season, we go over things and they get after it. Now none of them have played in months and we will have four days to prepare for the season.”
The reshuffling of season start dates did not alter the majority plans for the fan experience at Fabacher Field, which were put into place after owner Richard Chalmers hired VanAsselberg as general manger last fall.
Fans can expect to enjoy revamped concessions at Fabacher Field.
“This year we are going to have chicken strips in addition to hot dogs and hamburgers,” VanAsselberg said. “We are also going to have French Friday which is when you can have $2 French fries. There is also going to be Thirsty Thursday where you can purchase two-for-one 16-ounce beers. We are also going to have a Two for Tuesday promotion where you can get hot dogs and Slush Puppies for two dollars.
“We are wanting to take the on-field entertainment as well to the next level,” VanAsselberg said. “We just doing different things. It’s being like going to a festival that has a baseball game going on.”
The team has also implemented safety protocols for COVID-19.
Fabacher Field has a seating capacity of 2,000 but will only be at 50 percent capacity throughout the season. This means that seats will be left empty for social distancing but families in groups of four can sit together and there will be two empty seats on each side of the cluster of people. In addition, there will also be plenty of signage and hand sanitizers all across the ballpark, employees will be wearing gloves and masks, and temperatures will be taken when fans enter through the ballpark’s gates.
Even with a few delays, and COVID-19, VanAsselberg says that the excitement for the Cane Cutters’ season is high — and he can’t wait to have local sports fans hooked on the product they will see on the field this summer.
“Everybody in the community seems to be excited,” VanAsselberg said. “We are having people reach out to us that haven’t been interested in the Cane Cutters before but they are this year. It is exciting. If people come out and give us a shot they will want to come back.”