In Praise of Minor League Baseball
Over the past several seasons, minor league baseball has continued to flourish and grow. Despite the economic downturn of the last three years, attendance has at least held steady and continued to provide baseball fans and their families with a very affordable and entertaining product. It’s also the lifeblood of major league baseball and affords fans the opportunity to see close up, all of the potential stars of the future.
My city lost our Triple A franchise after the 2007 season. Attendance wasn’t there (Canada is a hockey country first, second and third) and various wrangling with short and slow minded city officials led to the demise of my team.
But next season baseball will return to my city, this time we will be embracing a Double A franchise. Needless to say, I can’t wait.
Over the 15 seasons my city was host to minor league baseball I developed a strong interest in minor league baseball. It saved me during the major league strike of 1994-1995 and afforded me the opportunity to see the future of the then Montreal Expos up close and personal. There was casualness about the game. I could afford front row tickets and players were fan friendly and eager to be part of the community. Every game had a fun party like atmosphere and although we wanted our team to win every game, it didn’t really matter. It was good baseball by players who knew that they might be one step away from The Show. Or one step away from going home.
Looking back on those days we knew deep down inside that most of the players we were watching were not going to make it. Some had seen their opportunity slip away for whatever reason and were hanging on in the hope of getting a few weeks every season in the bigs if nothing else. Some were still climbing the ladder but knew that time was running out. Some were stuck behind all stars at the major league level and were hoping to stick around long enough to put in their six years and sign elsewhere. They felt like family to us and we were saddened when one of our guys got his pink slip and oh so happy when one of them received the news that he was on his way to the majors.
Many of the managers and coaches were former major leaguers who I had watched on television as a kid. Most jokingly told me to stop reminding them of their age and their glorious pasts (although being reminded of their past and reliving memorable games came easy to them). All hated the long bus rides and the cramped hotels and the long hours. For most of these managers and coaches the love of the game itself was what kept them going. They were lifers who couldn’t do anything else nor did they want to.
The front office and staff were anything but minor league. They worked long hours for little pay. They dealt with the demands of players, fans and the press on a daily basis weather the team was home or on the road. The only break they received was not having to show up for work while the team was on the road until 9 AM. Otherwise, a typical day was 7 AM until 11 PM or later.
During the last two seasons of our team, I was privileged enough to find myself as part of the working press. This afforded me the opportunity to see a side of the game that fans don’t get to experience. Part of my job was post game interviews and writing game reviews. I was no longer allowed to be a pure fan as a tempered objectivity became my assignment. But I did sneak down to sit among my former friends in fandom when the opportunity arose and we quickly fell into our old debates about this player or that. They sometimes jokingly prodded me for inside info which I knew was strictly hands off due to my new position and teased me about being a big shot now that I was a member of the press. It was all in good fun.
I can’t wait for the return of minor league baseball to my town. It’s affordable, exciting and most of all, great fun. I don’t know if I’ll be sitting in the stands soaking up the sun on a beautiful summer day or sitting in the press box, eating a hot dog and good naturedly arguing about this or that. But I know I’ll be there.
By: Doug Bird