A Minor Variation

There is some thing special about minor league baseball.

Light StandOn Sunday, my wife and I took our two sons to see the Lehigh Valley IronPigs play at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They are in the middle of their second season as the Philadelphia Phillies triple-A team (yeah, yeah, I know I am rooting for future enemies of the Mets) and we have already seen more than a handful of games there. Usually, we meet friends there and we sit on the grass just beyond the left-center field wall. I believe they are the best seats in the house and it is almost always such a wonderful experience.

As a baseball purist, I cringe every time my kids jump up and down with enthusiasm over the playground instead of the home run hit a few feet from them or are more aware of the positioning of the cotton candy guy than the centerfielder. I wince every time they line up 10 people for the ceremonial first pitch or when people in costumes in the shape of cuts of meat start running around the field. It can be a bit of a circus at times with a side show of a baseball game. However, I am okay with it. My sons are small and that stuff gets them giggling and laughing at times. There are other baseball purists that complain about this stuff, especially when it’s at the major league level, but it is a tremendous vehicle for getting kids into the stadium. They don’t “get” the game at their current ages, but they recognize it. They are in the stadium and my hope is that they will soon pay more attention to what’s going happening on the field than they will be with the distractions.

The other aspect of minor league baseball that I love is the community feel. At the major league level, the team belongs to the city. And, although at the minor leagues, the team also belongs to the city, it feels more like it belongs to the community. When we go to games, it’s not uncommon to run into someone from my work, the parents of my kid’s friends or people from the neighborhood. Although they can be a bit much, the advertisements are for companies we know and business we’ve been to. There is a strong comfort this brings, especially on a beautiful summer evening. To sit, talking to friends and watching our kids chase each other around in an environment that feels safe, and almost like home, is an experience unmatched, especially at the major league level.

Beyond the community feelings there is also the cost of minor league baseball. This was the second of three games we are going to this year. I bought the tickets back before the season started. That’s a total of 12 general admission tickets. Six of those tickets were free because our boys are members of the kids club. The other six cost us $36. Total. I have gone to two major league games this season. One ticket for one game was more than what we paid for the six tickets and the kid’s club membership, combined. The other ticket was more that what we paid to go to the three games this year AND the three games last year with enough left over for cotton candy, hot dogs and beer. (On Sunday, I bought four hot dogs for $8. At a major league game, that would have only gotten me one hot dog.) The affordability of minor league baseball is simply unmatched.

Several years ago, my wife and I were down at Spring Training when we ran into a couple of guys trying to make the major league team. One guys, who had spent more than five years in the minors as a catcher was more sore from the drive he had to take from south Texas than from the day in camp. He had not spent a day in the majors. The other guy had pitched a few games in the majors and was pitching very well before an injury took him down. He had been fighting ever since to make it back. These two guys weren’t battling to make the majors because they wanted the money (although they really could use it). They were battling because they loved the game. Although there are aspects of their stories that are sad, it’s that love they have for the game that is special. It’s their willingness to do whatever they can to play the game…to have the right to put on a baseball uniform.

That’s what the minors are about. Men that are playing for the love of the game. You may see some sloppy baseball, but probably not because the right fielder was lazy in getting back on the ball or the second baseman didn’t use two hands. You see a lot more infield singles because they guys are going to run like there is no tomorrow, right out of the box. There is something special about watching these players playing because they love the game.

I’ll probably always feel an attachment to minor league baseball. My first job in baseball was with the New Jersey Cardinals, the single-A, short season team for St. Louis at the time. The tiny stadium literally looked out at hay fields and one would almost expect a cow to come wandering into the stands. Families could get field level seats for less than ten bucks each. The small feel to it and the interaction between players and fans was really special. Throughout that summer, I got to enjoy a game that was pure because the guys playing were right out of high school or college. The guys on the field had the same dreams as the kids watching from the stands.

My favorite part of those minor league games, were night game. The cool air and the way lights would shed a warm glow out over the farm lands on a summer night were simply magical. The sweet crisp air mixed with the smell of hot dogs, the laughter of kids and the players talking is, to me, the romance behind the game.

Yeah, there is something special about baseball. Do yourself a favor, and check out a game.

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