The COVID-19 pandemic shook up the Australian Baseball League and led to a two year layoff for the expansion Auckland Tuatara. The league’s New Zealand based franchise had gained serious momentum prior to the pandemic, but was forced to sit out the past two years due to border restrictions. Now, the league announced that the Tuatara will be returning for the 2022-23 campaign.
The Auckland Tuatara were founded in 2018, and immediately began to garner fan support across New Zealand. The club was able to bring in established major league veterans like Josh Collmenter and D.J. Carrasco, joined by ex-big leaguers Steve Mintz and Darren Bragg on the coaching staff. The team played their home games at McLeod Park in Te Atatū South in 2018, but moved to the much larger, multi-use North Harbour Stadium in Albany the next year. The Tuatara grew exponentially in their second season, moving into a larger building, and seeing initial crowds of a few hundred go all the way up to 4,500 fans at their peak. ““One of our goals is to have the largest crowd, one of our goals is to have the most amount of people turning up to a game,” Tuatara CEO Regan Wood said.
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Things started to go off the rails in late 2020, as the pandemic sidetracked the organization’s plans. Despite making statements declaring they were all in on the 2020-21 ABL season, the Tuatara pulled out at the last minute citing logistical problems from the pandemic. The real kicker was that the team had made serious inroads with MLB players, and had signed well-regarded veterans Danny Valencia, Justin Grimm and Eric Young Jr. to play that season. The other ABL franchises were displeased at the short notice, but the league soldiered on with a six-team format instead of the usual eight. The entire ABL season was canceled this past winter, as COVID-19 restrictions made it cost-prohibitive.
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