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Charleston RiverDogs announce 2021 schedule, new league and May 4 opener

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Riverdogs v Augusta (copy)

Charlie the RiverDog works the crowd at Riley Park. The minor league Charleston RiverDogs announced their 2021 schedule starting with a May 4 home opener against Myrtle Beach. File/Staff

Charlie The RiverDog still has the same basic routine. The Charleston RiverDogs’ furry mascot will do his Riley Park thing and remains available for charity events, birthdays, bar mitzvahs.

But the impact of Major League Baseball’s takeover of the minor leagues is apparent in the RiverDogs’ vastly different 2021 schedule, released Feb. 18 among schedules for all minor league teams.

The RiverDogs open a month later than usual, at home May 4 against a new rival, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. They play fewer games, 132 instead of 140.

The team expects to allow fans at all home games, though initially at a reduced capacity.

The old South Atlantic League, which Charleston minor league teams had been a part of since 1980, is no more.

In with a downsized, geographically-driven format MLB was looking for after reducing minor league baseball from 160 teams to 120 by eliminating short season and rookie-level leagues.

The RiverDogs remain a low-level Class A team but will play in the Low A East’s South Division, titles MLB unveiled Thursday.

Charleston in November switched big-league affiliation from the New York Yankees to the Tampa Bay Rays.

“We are thrilled to be able to announce the schedule for ‘21 and would like to thank the city, state and MLB for finding workable solutions during unprecedented times,” RiverDogs president and general manager Dave Echols said. “The new geographically-friendly schedule will enhance player wellness and help create exciting rivalries which we are excited to begin promoting.”

The 12-team Low A East includes three divisions:

• South — Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Augusta.

• Central — Carolina (Zebulon, N.C.), Down East (Kinston, N.C.), Fayetteville, Kannapolis.

• North — Delmarva (Salisbury, Md.), Fredricksburg (Va.), Lynchburg (Va.), Salem (Va.).

To cut down on travel costs teams will play longer series (the RiverDogs’ opening series against Myrtle Beach goes six games) and fewer league opponents. Charleston in 2021 will not play any of the Low A East’s North Division teams and won’t play Carolina from the Central Division.

Thus, fans won’t get to see many of the league’s top major league prospects.

MLB and minor league baseball operated separately from 1903-2020, though there was no affiliated minor league baseball in 2020 because of COVID-19 safety precautions.

The new structure includes two divisions in Triple-A, three divisions in Double-A, High-A and Low-A.

MLB earlier this month announced minimum salary increases for minor league players at each level: from $290 to $500 a week at Class A, $350 to $600 at Double-A, $500 to $700 at Triple-A (most players also receive signing bonuses).

The RiverDogs are offering various ticket plans at riverdogs.com or (843) 577-DOGS.

Fans purchasing a voucher plan will be entered to win the opportunity to throw a virtual ceremonial first pitch caught by Bill Murray, the RiverDogs’ co-owner and Director of Fun.

Single game tickets go on sale March 7.

The RiverDogs plan another full promotional calendar to include staples such as Thirsty Thursdays, family Sundays and fireworks nights.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff

Gene Sapakoff is the oldest, fastest, hardest-hitting sports journalist in S.C. As columnist at The Post and Courier he covers Clemson, South Carolina and other interesting things. He likes food and has won the prestigious Judson Chapman Award 3 times.

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