Ryan Thurston
Ryan Thurston
Madison’s Ryan Thurston will finally get a chance to get back on the baseball diamond next week, but it won’t be in the same place as he played a year ago.

Thurston, a 2013 Madison High School graduate and 2018 grad of Western Kentucky University, will play for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the independent American Association starting Fourth of July weekend.

Like all sports leagues, the American Association has been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the league decided to resume play, but with only six teams rather than the usual 12. The Gary SouthShore Railcats, with whom Thurston played in 2019, was not one of the teams that will play this season.

A dispersal draft was held last week with the six remaining squads getting a chance to beef up their rosters. Thurston was among the 42 players selected, going to last year’s league runner-up Fargo-Moorhead in the sixth round.

“I’m excited that I get a chance to pitch for Fargo,” Thurston said. “I remember them from last year and I know they were one of the better teams in the league. I’m just happy to get to play.”

After spending the 2018 season in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Thurston signed with the Chicago Dogs of the American Association last season and pitched in just two games. The left-hander then finished out the season with Gary.

In 36 appearances for Chicago and Gary — all in relief — Thurston posted a 4-1 record with a 2.59 ERA and four saves. He struck out 49 batters and walked 28 in 55.2 innings.

Thurston was pleased overall with his season but said that there was still some things that he can do better.

“I was happy with most everything but I need to cut down on my walks,” Thurston said.

The American Association schedule calls for the six teams to play a 60-game schedule with a best-of-five championship series to close out the season. The six teams will be grouped in three different hubs, with Fargo-Moorhead and the Winnipeg Goldeyes grouped in Fargo, Chicago and the Milwaukee Milkmen centered in Milwaukee and the St. Paul Saints and the Sioux Falls Canaries grouped in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Each team will play 30 games as the home team in their pods and 12 games as the visiting team in their hub, meaning 42 of each team’s 60 games will be played at their hub site. The schedule will allow any of the three road clubs to return home for games if local health and governmental restrictions allow for games with fans in attendance.

Each team and stadium will have in place and enforce COVID Readiness Plans, approved by local health and government officials. Stadiums will be configured to return to play with limited capacity to allow for safe social distancing while enjoying live professional baseball.

One of the side-effects of the small league is that the best talent will be grouped over six teams, meaning that every game will feature the best players in the league. Thurston said that this year will be a good chance for he and his fellow players in the league to get a good look from scouts, especially with all other forms of organized baseball in the country shut down.

“It will be a lot tougher for sure but it will be easier to scout and to see everybody,” Thurston said. “If you have a good year you could really stand out and catch somebody’s eye.”

Thurston will report to Fargo on Thursday for the beginning of an abbreviated spring training session with the first game set for Friday, July 3. Fargo-Moorhead and Winnipeg will open the season against each other for a three-game set that weekend.