HIGH POINT — The most notable quirk in the Rockers’ 2022 Atlantic League are a lot of home games at the beginning and the end with not so many in the dead of summer.
Team president Pete Fisch is just happy to have a full 132-game slate and have it already announced after having no season in 2020 and an abbreviated one in 2021 because of the pandemic.
“Considering last year we had 60 home games and we weren’t sure we’d have that, and this year we have 66 plus an exhibition with Gastonia, and we’ll be adding some other baseball events, this feels like our first true normal season,” FIsch said recently. “The first season is sort of unusual because you have a lot of expenses to get going and revenues coming in up front because people want to come out and see the ballpark. The second season was cancelled and last season we had an abbreviated schedule. Hopefully, this will our first normal schedule.”
The home schedule includes the first 13 and 28 of the first 41 in Truist Point from April 21-June 5 plus 15 of the last 24 at home from Aug. 23-Sept. 18.
“It’s just the luck of the draw,” Fisch said. “This past season, we were really heavy with home games in August and September, and this year we’re heavy in April and May. Last season, we were very sparse in June and July, we had nine home games in July.
“We’re a little heavier on the front end this time. There’s merits to both. Obviously, you’d like for it to be spread out more evenly. It’s a challenge for the league with people asking for dates off and certain dates they can be home and can’t be home due to conflicts.”
In the middle, the Rockers will be away for 44 of 67 dates from June 7-Aug. 21 in potentially the hottest time of the season.
“You never know what the weather is going to be,” Fisch said. “Last year, we were heavy with home games in August and we thought it would be great with all those games before the kids went back to school. But we had days when the heat index was over 100 and it was a very humid, heavy heat, and that’s just not comfortable. So hopefully this year’s schedule is something that can work for us.
“Every year, you can always look at the schedule in a number of different ways. We look at this year as baseball is back again and we can plan versus react and that’s the biggest thing.”
During the summer, the Rockers will be on the road for an entire week three times. Fisch said he hopes to fill in the gaps with more baseball, soccer and maybe concerts.
“With the schedule in place, we can start to fill in the other dates,” Fisch said. “The earlier you know, the better events you can get. It’s a big difference knowing the schedule in November instead of March or April.”
The league will have two new teams, Staten Island is one. The other will play in the same stadium as the Lexington Legends and will exist for just this season to give the league an even number of teams (10). The extra team in Kentucky is scheduled to be replaced by a new team in Hagerstown, Maryland in 2023.
The Rockers’ season-opening 13-game homestand, the longest of the year, will start with four against the Kentucky team. That’s followed by three against Lancaster, three against Charleston and three against Long Island.
The season will again be divided into two halves and the league divided into two divisions, North and South. The division winners in each half automatically make the playoffs. The Rockers remain in the South Division, which also includes the two Kentucky clubs, Charleston and Gastonia.
“Playing at home early on should give you a competitive advantage since you usually play better at home than on the road,” Fisch said. “So if you win those games up front, it would be wonderful to clinch a playoff spot by the end of the first half and know and start to plan the end of September, and take the pressure, unlike like last season when we worried in the second half if we were going to win the division or not.”
In another quirk of the schedule, the Rockers will play Gastonia 33 times. The league made similar scheduling with the other teams close to each other — Staten Island and Long Island, York and Lancaster, and the two Kentrucky teams.
The rest of the Rockers schedule is tilted toward Southern division teams.
Fisch said the Rockers will play four more games against Gastonia than originally planned to avoid a two-game road trip to Staten Island followed by two against Kentucky.. Instead, the Rockers will play the entire week against the Honey Hunters --, two at Gastonia on July 4-5, two at Truist and three at Gastonia.
“There were some of us that went to the schedule makers and said, ‘let’s take a look at this and do something that cuts down on travel while creating something meaningful over the holidays.’ ” So the close geographic rivals will play, leaving Southern Maryland and Charleston to also square off.
“It would have been horrendous for us to go to Staten Island for two games and then to High Point for two and then Gasonia for two,” Fisch said. “We would have been travelling more than in the hotel, It creates a little imbalance in the schedule but I don’t think anyone cares. What we don’t want to do is create a burden on the players of traveling 12-14 hours up, playing a game and then another game and then traveling 12-14 hours back.”
Fisch said another adjustment made to the original schedule will send the Rockers to Charleston instead of Lexington at the end of May so the Lexington park can host the Ohio Valley Conference baseball tournament.
Some of the events that will fill in dates when the Rockers aren’t at home should be announced in the next two weeks or so. Also to be announced are start times for the Rockers games.
“We did a fan survey and we’re looking at those, really what is the best time to start on Sunday afternoon, then weeknights and weekend nights,” Fisch said. “Some want to start earlier on weeknights while for others it’s a struggle to get home from work, get the kids, change, get something to eat and get to the ballpark.
“Then on Sundays in the summer, it’s a challenge playing on field turf because of the heat. Whatever the temperature, it’s much hotter out there. So if you are on grass, 2 o’clock (Sunday) games might make sense. On turf you want to be later. So is 5 p.m. too late, should we be 4 or 6, July 3, we’ll most likely be 6:30 because we’ll be shooting fireworks that night.”
The Rockers will be away on July 4 for the second straight season and also will be away on Father’s Day.
“Overall we’re pleased with the schedule,” Fisch said. “I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say we got a great schedule. I can always shoot holes in just about every one. Is it better to be home here or here? Is it better to have three at home here or six? Starting off early at home, it gives us a chance to get out of the gate strong and it gives our guys a chance to get acclimated before going on the road.
“We’re excited to have a schedule and be able to do some planning and start putting together ticket packages and things like that. Last year we didn’t know until April and we weren’t sure we’d start when we said we’d start and we weren’t really sure we’d get all the way through the season. We’d made it through someone and now we get ready to do it again.”