Tag Archives: MiLB

Space Cowboys and Commanders Leave Much to be Desired

Recently, two teams I have a lengthy history of supporting decided to change their names.

That fact alone is not that surprising. In recent years, teams changing their names has been a rather common occurrence with the reasoning behind the name changes running the gambit from bowing to pressure from outside forces, to wanting to freshen a brand to sell more merch.

In keeping with that tried-and-true model, in the latest example of the name game, one team changed their name due to outside pressure from groups who considered their old name to be offensive, and the other team changed their name for what can likely be called a money grab to force their fans to buy new merchandise and to put their special seal on a new asset.

In both cases, the new names left me feeling less than excited to continue rooting for either team.

The first example of rebranding gone bad is the Sugar Land Skeeters becoming the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

If the team really wanted to pay homage to the Sugar Land past, they could have gone with calling the team the Imperials in honor of the rich history of Sugar Land as a producer of Imperial sugar. Instead they decided to play the role of the Joker.
Photo R. Anderson

Because when I think of a great name for a Minor League Baseball team I think, “hey let’s find a title from the Steve Miller Band’s catalog and go with that.” I suppose it could have been worse and they could have called them Maurice.

But all tributes to the Joker aside, Skeeters was a name that reflected the fact that this side of Texas is ground zero for the blood sucking insects.

The rebranding trying to tie the Space Cowboys to actual aerospace workers and the “old west” history of a Houston suburb just falls flat on so many levels.

If the team really wanted to pay homage to the Sugar Land past, they could have gone with calling the team the Imperials in honor of the rich history of Sugar Land as a producer of Imperial sugar.

Better still, they could have left well enough alone and built on the legacy of the Sugar Land Skeeters instead of feeling the need to create a new brand.

In many of my marketing and management classes the value of building on an existing brand was front and center in lessons on what good marketeers do.

Instead, of following those tried and true principles the team decided to rebrand mirror the Astros lest we forget that they are an affiliate of the Major League cheaters.

In addition to a really lame new name, one of my favorite mascots, Swatson, is being sent on an imaginary trip around the world with another former Skeeters mascot named Moe and being replaced by a blue space dog. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t the sidekick of a space cowboy be a space horse and not a space dog?

In addition to a really lame new name, one of my favorite mascots, Swatson, is being sent on an imaginary trip around the world with another former Skeeters mascot named Moe and being replaced by a blue space dog. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t the sidekick of a space cowboy be a space horse and not a space dog?
Photo R. Anderson

I mean I get that dogs are man’s best friend and all that, but a horse, or a cow, really would have sold the whole space cowboy theme a bit more unless the space dog is meant to corral all of the sheep into buying into the new name.

As part of the rebrand launch back stories were written for the new mascot as well as detailed descriptions of how the team colors and logo were designed. When a marketer has to spend several paragraphs justifying their actions one really has to question their own buy-in on the project.

Talk about the pompatus of self-righteousness.

Shortly after the news broke that the Houston Astros bought the Skeeters, I wrote a column noting that they would likely take something I considered special and turn it into something fit for a metal trash can, and in a little over a year they did just that.

Sorry Space Cowboys but this is one fan who will not be joining you on your new quest to get money from the citizens of Space City. I would rather cling to my good memories of Swatson and the Skeeters while taking my money and running away from your rebrand.

The second example of rebranding gone bad is the Washington Football Team becoming the Washington Commanders.

As noted before in several other columns, I was born outside of Washington D.C. and was a fan of the burgundy and gold from a very young age. I even have the Hogs nose to prove it.

While I will certainly concede that the team needed to move past their use of Native American branding, the Commanders just makes me think of a bad G.I. Joe cover band.

It also creates the issue that one usually would have a single Commander in Chief versus multiple Commanders. Or as the old saying goes, too many chefs ruin the soup.

I am not alone in thinking that the Commanders name fails to capture the imagination. Former players and fans alike have not been afraid to unleash the full fury of their displeasure about the new name on various social media platforms.

One of the early leaked new names for the Washington Football Team was the Red Wolves. Unfortunately for proponents of that name, the trademark was already owned by Arkansas State University.
Photo R. Anderson

I get that the team needed to find a name that they could trademark and make money off of. One of the early favorites for a new name was the Washington Red Wolves which would have allowed fans to keep singing a certain song by replacing the word “skins” with the word “wolves.”

Sadly, for that football team in Washington, Arkansas State University already held the trademark for Red Wolves. So, any thoughts of singing Hail to the Red Wolves in D.C. were quickly dashed.

I get that the Red Wolves fell out of the pack of potential names, but are we to believe that after nearly three years of trying to find a name that was not offensive and could be trademarked, the only options was Commanders?

The anticlimactic reveal of Commanders follows the news last year of the Cleveland Indians becoming the Cleveland Guardians which is another name that falls short.

As I noted last year in a column about the Guardians, there was already a team in Cleveland named the Guardians. So, not only did the Cleveland Indians brain trust come up with a less than stunning name based on some monuments on a bridge, they did not even do enough research to realize that the name was already in use in their own town.

One certainly hopes that after three years of searching the Washington Football Team at least verified that there wasn’t already a Washington Commanders franchise in town.

I realize that there are likely people who think that the Space Cowboys and Commanders are good team names. Some of those people may even not be employed by the two franchises that chose those names.

But for me and my time and money, I am not planning to give any thought to the Space Cowboys or the Commanders, since they are doing me wrong, doing me wrong.

Thanks for the memories, Swatson. I will always remember the times we shared at the Ballpark before the Astros came and ruined everything. Stay Gold Swatson. You will be missed.
Photo R. Anderson

I am not ruling out a return to the Ballpark in Sugar Land since my desire to see live baseball will likely overcome my disdain for the Space Cowboys name and a desire to not give any money to anything owned by the Astros.

But, if I do return to Constellation Field, I will either be wearing my Skeeters gear, or showing support for the Round Rock Express or Albuquerque Isotopes.

As far as the Commanders go, I will remember the glory days of my youth in a Maryland suburb where I led the Super Bowl cheers in elementary school. Those are enough Lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey, lovey-dovey all the time memories without tarnishing them by going commando for the Commanders.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a strange urge to listen to the Steve Miller Band.

Copyright 2022 R. Anderson

Astros Making Sugar Land Skeeters a Farm Club Proves Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was a senior in high school, I memorized the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” as part of an English assignment. In the years since, I have often referred back to that poem during times when things I considered golden in my life became tarnished, or lost some shine.

Such was the case when I learned that the Houston Astros were nearing a deal to make the Sugar Land Skeeters their AAA farm team. As part of the deal, the Astros will own all or part of the Skeeters.

On the surface the idea that the Sugar Land Skeeters are leaving independent baseball and becoming an affiliated team should be good news. But when one digs deeper, they realize that all of the things that made the Skeeters appealing could be taken away as part of the larger effort to give Major League Baseball absolute control of the Minor Leagues.

As part of a massive realignment of Minor League Baseball the Sugar Land Skeeters are slated to go from an independent team in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball to the AAA Affiliate of the Houston Astros starting in the 2021 season.
Photo R. Anderson

The desire for the Astros to keep their AAA team close to the big-league club follows a trend other clubs have followed over the past decade or so.

In fact, in 2013 when the Astros AAA club was based in Oklahoma City there were rumblings that the Astros wanted to relocate a team to the Woodlands, north of Houston to “expand the brand” and “counter moves made by the Texas Rangers,” according to Astros officials at the time.

Fast forward seven years and buying into the ownership of an existing team with a Ballpark is certainly easier than building one from scratch. The Skeeters would join the Astros owned AA affiliate Corpus Christi Hooks as Texas based feeder teams.

The Texas Rangers will likely move their AAA team back to Round Rock, which the Astros are vacating to move to Sugar Land. In the event that the Rangers move back to Round Rock they would join the Astros in having their AA and AAA teams located within the Lone Star State since the Rangers AA farm club is the Frisco Rough Riders.

I have written extensively this year about how I went from a supporter of the Astros to a former fan who wants nothing to do with them as a result of their trash can cheating scandal. But, if any of the other 29 MLB teams were buying into the Skeeters, I would be equally sad.

To be absolutely clear, although I despise what the Astros organization represents based in part on the lack of sincerity in their apologies for the cheating scandal, I would be sad at the thought of the Skeeters changing from independent to affiliated ball regardless of what team they were affiliated with. The fact that it is the Astros just makes it hurt a bit more.

With the exception of the pandemic year of 2020, I have been a fixture at Skeeters games since the team arose out of the former sugar cane fields in 2012. As mentioned, many times before, if Sugar Land was located just a few miles closer to the Gigaplex I likely would have been a season ticket holder and spent most spring and summer evenings at Constellation Field watching the Skeeters.

For the majority of my baseball loving life I have preferred attending Minor League Baseball to Major League Baseball. There is just something about a Minor League game that cannot be matched at the Major League level.

Much like a face palming mascot named Swatson, the news that the Houston Astros were going to be involved with the Sugar Land Skeeters caused my head to shake and my palm to be planted firmly on my forehead. It also reminded me of the words I memorized years ago that nothing gold can stay.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the charm of going to see the Skeeters play was the fact that tickets and concessions were reasonably priced and the action on the field involved former MLB players as well as people who were trying to continue their careers for just a little bit longer.

As an affiliated Astros club, I fear that the owner of the Astros who famously said in the middle of a pandemic that he wanted fans in the stands so he could sell them “beer and t-shirts” will likely not keep the prices as low as they had been on the current regime. Of course, Skeeters tickets will hopefully still be cheaper than Astros tickets but Goliath has definitely defeated David in this example.

Based on the amount of people who wore Astros gear to Skeeters games, I know that I am likely in the minority when it comes to being sad that the era of Skeeters as I knew them is likely coming to a close. There is likely social distanced dancing in the streets at the news that the Astros will have their AAA team a mere 27 miles or so away from Minute Maid Park.

They may even try to make the Skeeters Ballpark, Constellation Field, look like a mini Minute Maid Park. Of course, the city of Sugar Land owns Constellation Field so they would have a huge say in any major renovations to the Ballpark.

Come next season, one of my favorite Ballparks will be home of the AAA farm club of the Houston Astros. As part of the new relationship Constellation Field could start to look like a mini Minute Maid Park with Astros fans as far as the eye can see.
Photo R. Anderson

But even if major renovations are not done, make no mistake the Ballpark will become a mini Minute Maid packed to the rafters with Astros fans cheering on the top prospects.

I could even envision a scenario where they try to adjust the schedule to ensure that the Skeeters home games coincide with when the Astros are on the road to maximize the amount of dollars that can be made.

Like Mulder told Scully, I want to believe that the worst-case scenario I am picturing will not take place. I want to believe that come Opening Day 2021 COVID-19 will be on the way out and Swatson and the Skeeters will be there like a warm binkie reminding me of a time before the world went bat guano crazy.

Although I want to believe, I am also not naïve. There will be changes to the way the Skeeters operate. Some will be good; some will be bad. Time will tell whether the changes are something I can live with, or if I need to find another Ballpark to call home.

I really do not want to leave the Skeeters behind. They were my oasis and anti-Astros representing all that I remembered about baseball growing up. Unfortunately, that form of baseball is getting harder and harder to find.

Each year the game of baseball gets more commercialized and sanitized. The days of baseball being an afternoon or evening escape where on can just absorb the sights and sounds are fading. Efforts to streamline and modernize the game will continue until baseball as it once was may cease to exist. There are already examples of that, but the years to come are likely to involve some of the most radical changes to the game that have been seen in centuries.

As part of the musical chairs that is Minor League Baseball the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers appear to once again be swapping out calling the Dell Diamond home for their AAA ballplayers.
Photo R. Anderson

I am too young to be the cranky old guy chasing kids off of his lawn and rambling under his breath  about the way things used to be back in the day.

However, I am old enough to remember that baseball used to be a lot less commercialized and people did not need a million distractions in the Ballpark to keep them amused. Back then people actually went to the Ballpark to see a baseball game from their seats.

Back in high school when I was just kicking off my professional writing career, and attending Southern League games at Tinker Field, baseball was still in a nostalgic era. It was also in the middle of the golden age of the baseball movie.

As for the poem that started this all, memorizing the Robert Frost poem senior year was tied to S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. In the book, and for those with shorter attention spans that seem to be the target audience of the new era of baseball, the movie, Johnny Cade tells Ponyboy Curtis to “Stay gold.”

In the same way now I am asking, pleading, begging even, for the Skeeters to stay gold and not become just another cookie cutter affiliate where fans are mere commodities to be monetized and fleeced for beer and t-shirt sales.

Sadly, my rarely wrong gut knows that nothing gold can stay. As Robert Frost wrote nearly a century ago:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Another Robert Frost poem that I often think of is The Road Not Taken. Two paths are in front of me as I decide whether to accept the road that the Skeeters appear to be heading down, or if I choose another one. But that is a poem, and a column for another day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to reread The Outsiders. Stay gold, Swatson.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Baseball Movies Spark Long Gone Memories and Show What Can be Right in the World

I like baseball.

I like movies.

I like movies about baseball.

Anyone who has read my writing through the years, or has spoken with me in person, will also know that in addition to liking movies about baseball, I enjoy quoting baseball movies. Classmates during my M.S. in Sports Management Program were often subjected to quotes from Bull Durham and Field of Dreams as I tried to make a compelling argument about whatever the issue of the day was in school that particular week.

In the same way, in my column writing over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

Over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

In addition to quoting baseball movies, for years I have compiled a list of what I feel are the Top 10 Baseball movies and count them down leading up to opening day.

With the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, and the year in general not being like anything that we have seen before thanks to a global COVID-19 pandemic, coin shortages, murder hornets, and sports in bubbles, among other things, it seems only fitting that I would discover a new baseball movie 33 years after it first came out. That movie is Long Gone.

Long Gone, is a 1987 made-for-TV film, based on a 1979 book about a minor league ball club in the Florida panhandle. The film is set in 1957 and aired on HBO. The cast includes William Petersen, Dermot Mulroney, Virginia Madsen, and Teller of Penn and Teller fame.

The movie tells the story of the Tampico Stogies, a team competing in the Alabama-Florida League, battling the odds, and segregation, in an effort to be better than they deserve. The movie also shows players as human beings dealing with real-world problems instead of as larger than life saints incapable of human follies and desires.

If the story of a rag tag bunch of Minor League ballplayers in the south sounds familiar, it should. A little over a year after Long Gone debuted on HBO, 13 months to be exact, a little film called Bull Durham hit the cinematic landscape; and the rest as they say was history.

The late eighties and early nineties are referred to by some as the golden age of the baseball movie based on the number of baseball movies to debut during that time. In fact, four of the Top 10 movies on my yearly countdown were filmed from 1988 to 1989. Those movies were, Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Major League (1989) and Field of Dreams (1989). By coming out in 1987 it can be argued that Long Gone kicked off the end of the decade baseball movie trend in the late eighties.

Since the movie was filmed as a made for TV movie during a time before streaming services and DVD releases, finding it on DVD or Netflix can be difficult. Thankfully, I found the movie on You Tube and watched it the other day.

While watching the movie, part of me thought I had seen it before as certain scenes were familiar. Other parts of me thought that I had not seen the movie and was mistaking it for something else.

Regardless of whether I had or had not seen the movie before, the fact remains that it is a delightful time capsule of a forgotten era of Minor League Baseball and shows a side of baseball that helped the game become America’s Pastime.

Or to quote Walt Whitman about baseball, “It’s our game . . . it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws.”

The love affair with baseball has certainly soured over the years as other sports have grabbed hold of a sports population with short attention spans who want games that move quickly and entertain them with shiny baubles and artisanal beer at the Ballpark.

While I certainly enjoy my share of shiny objects, I have noted for years that part of baseball’s allure is the fact that it does not have a play clock and anything can happen on any given night. The unpredictability of the game and the desire to remember a past era is probably why I prefer Minor League Baseball (MiLB) over MLB.

The 2020 MiLB season was cancelled due to COVID-19. If the powers that be get their way in 2021 MiLB as it has been known for over a century is likely to be radically altered. Some affiliated clubs will likely be contracted. The very league structure of MiLB itself could fall under the umbrella of MLB and cease being an independently governed league. I will mourn deeply for minor league ball should it just become another arm of the multi tentacled MLB.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters are close enough for me to go see. So I will still have baseball to watch in person once the games resume next year, or whenever a COVID-19 vaccine allows normal operations of life to resume on a large scale.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB Ballclubs in 2021. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters and Swatson are close enough for me to go see.
Photo R. Anderson

In the meantime while we await the day where Ballparks will once again come to life with the sounds, tastes, and smells of the game, cinematic baseball movies like Long Gone and Bull Durham show all that baseball can be if people just get out of the way and let the players play. Too much micromanaging of the game to suit the artisanal crowd could impact the game in negative ways that cannot be undone. We are seeing a little of that in some of the changes that have been rolled out the last couple of seasons in MLB.

On a personal note, Long Gone was filmed at historic McKechnie Field, located in Bradenton, Florida which serves as the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as the home of a Class A Florida State League team.

I mention this fact because for years my grandmother who lived in Bradenton Beach, FL wanted to take me to see a game at the Ballpark. Sadly, she died before we ever made that goal a reality. However, I am forever thankful to have watched games with her at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL and for the part she played along with my mom and other grandmother in instilling within me a love of the game of baseball.

I still hope to make it to Bradenton one of these days for a game at what is now known as Lecom Park. Although my grandmother, Mom Mom, will not be there in person, I know she will be there in spirit if I do make it to the Ballpark.

Baseball is a sport where memories can be made and promises can be kept. It is a simple game at heart. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes you watch a movie that reminds you of your grandmother.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 2021 trip to Bradenton to plan.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Sugar Land Skeeters Delay Start of Summer League as MiLB Cancels Season

A couple of weeks ago, the Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.

On June 30, the team announced that they were delaying the start of the league by a week to July 10. The delay comes as cases of COVID-19 soar to new heights in Texas leading to serious questions about whether the start will be pushed back again when July 10 rolls around.

To be clear, in lieu of a miracle, it is highly unlikely that the state of COVID-19 in Texas will be better in a week. In fact, if the spike in cases that followed Memorial Day is any indication, displays of patriotism and group gatherings for the July 4th Weekend are likely to send COVID-19 cases soaring like a roman candle reaching for the heavens.

I get that the Skeeters want to have their league succeed. I want their league to succeed as well. But the outlook is not too favorable for that to happen in the current COVID-19 climate.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.
Photo R. Anderson

The same day that the Skeeters announced the seven-day season slippage, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) made the announcement many people already knew was coming, and said that there would be no MiLB season this year.

As noted many times before, MiLB is my absolute favorite form of baseball, and the fact that the season has been cancelled makes me truly sick to my stomach because of all of the employees who will get laid off, as well as knowing that many of the players and some of the teams may not be around when the 2021 season rolls around next April.

There is always high turnover in any MiLB season as some players move up, and others just quietly retire having never reached the pinnacle of playing in the Show. This year the normal ebb and flow of player movement has a new element called contraction.

In November 2019, before the world was gripped by a global pandemic, MLB announced that it wanted to eliminate around 42 minor league affiliates and keep about 120 affiliates tied to 30 MLB clubs, or roughly four MILB teams per MLB club, as a cost savings measure. The COVID-19 pandemic just sped that process along and meant that some Ballparks would not get a farewell season.

Of course, MLB said a few years back that they wanted to get rid of a few teams and placed the Expos and the Twins on the chopping block. Although the Expos left Montreal and became the Nationals, the last time I checked we still have 30 MLB franchises.

Congressional leaders are also likely to weigh in on any plan that would take baseball away from their constituents.

So, I am cautiously optimistic that MLB will back off of their plan to reduce the ranks of MiLB, but something tells me they will keep their foot on the gas.

From a big picture MLB perspective, I understand that they want to streamline the operation to have fewer players and better facilities across the board in the farm system of the future. In recent years, MLB clubs even started owning their farm teams as a means to control costs from Rookie ball to MLB. As such, the MiLB owners were already getting pushed aside in many markets.

I know that baseball is a business. One need only listen to MLB owners complain about lost revenue during the 2020 season to know where many of their heads are at. But, for many of the smaller communities that are served by MiLB teams, baseball is an extension of the community and a part of the lifeblood that pumps from generation to generation.

The last MiLB game in Orlando was played in 2003 and it left a void for baseball fans in the region. Granted, the loss of a MiLB team in Orlando is not going to have the same effect as the loss of a team in a smaller community. While they currently do not have professional baseball, Orlando has college sports at the University of Central Florida, the Orlando Magic, the Orlando Solar Bears, Orlando City, and Orlando Pride. Of course, if Pat Williams has his way Orlando will become an MLB city someday.

Contrast the sport heavy balance sheet of Orlando with say Billings, Montana. Billings, and many other cities where MiLB is played, do not have other professional sports nearby. So, a night at the Ballpark is literally the only game in town when it comes to professional sports in many markets. Besides offering entertainment for fans, the Ballparks offer employment for everything from ticket takers to ushers.

If the teams go away, the jobs will go away as well.

If MLB really does go through with their plan of reducing the ranks of MiLB as a way to save a buck, I really hope that non-affiliated baseball leagues like the ALPB and others can fill the void and keep baseball in the towns affected by the loss of their MiLB franchise.

I know there are people who will stand up and shout that independent baseball is not the same as affiliated baseball. I will not argue that point, other than to say that if I had a choice between having an Independent League team in my town, or no baseball team in my town, I am going to go with having the Independent League team every time.

The baseball fan in me wants to see the Sugar Land Skeeters summer league succeed. However, as much as I love Swatson, the reporter in me cannot justify putting fans and players at risk of catching COVID-19 just to play ball.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, the reality is that some owners may not have the resources to run an Independent baseball team without the support that went along with being affiliated with MLB.

That is why the baseball fan in me wants to see the Skeeters summer league succeed so that the players and staff don’t have to worry about losing their jobs. Of course, when I put on my reporter hat, I still cannot justify putting fans and players at risk of catching COVID-19 just to play ball.

MLB is still planning a return at the end of July for their 60-games in 66 days mini season, but many more players each day are choosing to opt out of the season.

It is a tough calculus that I really hope we are not faced with again once the COVID-19 pandemic is finally defeated thanks to either a vaccine, or effective therapeutics, that allow the world to fully reopen again.

When that day of reopening does occur, I will be one of the first people in line at the Ballpark to see the game I love played once more. Sadly, the residents of up to 42 communities may not be as lucky.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to celebrate Bobby Bonilla Day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Baseball is Still Trying to Save Season as Other Sports Hit Cruise Control

As Major League Baseball’s owners and players continue to haggle over the parameters of what a 2020 season would look like in terms of number of games played and percentage of compensation, NASCAR and IndyCar are up and running, and the NBA is about to be up and running.

NASCAR which became the first major professional sports league to return to action last month, is set to hit another milestone on June 14 when it allows some fans into the track to see the action in person. Welcoming of fans into the facility comes with restrictions, and is also occurring during a time when nearly half of the states in the United States are seeing the number of cases of COVID-19 go up. It is also occurring as other states are being questioned about whether they are providing an accurate count of the total number of COVID-19 cases within their communities.

Make no mistake, these are truly uncharted waters, and the entire process is just one big wave away from capsizing faster than the ship in The Poseidon Adventure. Still, for many it is full steam ahead, into the great wide open.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26. While the main issues preventing the MLB from playing ball seem to be mostly financial, not all of the players are being affected the same way.

Established MLB players, and recently drafted Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players, can easily sit out the season if it comes down to it since for the most part their jobs are safe.

The fact that other sports leagues are resuming their interrupted seasons is placing added pressure on MLB to start their 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to begin on March 26.
Photo R. Anderson

For other players, a lost season could cost them their last chance to make it onto a Big-League roster and leave the long bus rides of MiLB behind.

I have been thinking a lot about those players in both affiliated and independent baseball lately. As I have noted several times before, I cut my Ballpark teeth by mostly watching Southern League baseball when I was growing up. In recent years, despite being located closer to an MLB Ballpark, than an Independent League Ballpark, I have found myself driving the extra 20 minutes and spending more time watching the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPA) than the Houston Astros.

Nothing says Ballpark fun quite like a mascot adjacent box seat near the dugout. Isn’t that right Swatson?
Photo R. Anderson

For me, Minor League Baseball is a purer form of the game and allows me to be closer to the field for the same price as a nosebleed ticket at an MLB Ballpark. With Minor League Ballparks being about a third of the size of their Major League counterparts, one can really get up close and personal to the action.

Unfortunately, those Minor League players that I enjoy watching the most are the ones who are finding uncertain futures, as well as uneasy presents. To their credit many MLB teams and players have offered to pay the salaries of the players in their farm systems. However, with efforts to reduce the number of MiLB teams, as well as reducing the number of players drafted, in the coming years, there will be far fewer people who will get to chase their dreams of making it to the Show.

Of course, less affiliated Minor League baseball should mean an uptick in players wanting to play Independent League baseball which may lead to the rise of new leagues and teams to fill the void left behind following any contraction of affiliated baseball.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who was a star pitcher on the school baseball team. The team made it to the state playoffs my junior year. The following year, it was not uncommon to see various pro scouts in the stands.

My friend was a southpaw pitcher, which was then, and continues to be a hot commodity sought after by many MLB clubs. My friend ended up signing with the New York Yankees in the second round of the MLB June Amateur Draft right out of high school and as Tom Petty would say, “the future was wide open.”

Setbacks on the field, as well as off the field, led him to bounce around the Minor Leagues like a fan trying to reach first base in a dizzy bat race. My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball. Over 10 seasons he had a career .513 winning percentage, and a career 4.32 earned run average (ERA). After 10 years of chasing the dream my friend finally called it a career without so much as a cup of coffee in the show.

My friend spent six years in the Yankees organization and never advanced above AA ball, as well as playing four years of Independent League baseball proving that not every dream of playing MLB ball comes true.
Photo R. Anderson

There are thousands of players just like my friend who seek the bright lights of big-league ballparks only to find their dreams cut short. While the answer varies depending on who you ask, most people can agree that only about 10 to 20 percent of the people drafted by MLB teams will ever make it to the Majors.

So, the thinking goes that by reducing the number of teams and the rounds in the draft MLB is forcing people who wouldn’t have made it to the MLB anyway to start their post baseball playing days earlier.

Many will bounce along as long as possible chasing the dream until the realities of life and family commitments lead them to a steadier form of work. These players are the real Crash Davis types, in honor of the character Kevin Costner played in Bull Durham.

I lost track of my friend a few years before the end of his career but would still follow his career whenever I saw a blurb on one of the Minor League sites. I hope he is doing well for himself and that he landed on his feet after he hung up his glove for the last time.

Whenever baseball does resume it will be different on so many fronts. COVID-19 exposed a crack in the professional sports diversion that people have counted on to get them through so many other trying times in the past. Now that people know that sports are not the recession proof, tragedy proof, and pandemic proof light in a time of darkness that they thought they were, people will need to decide whether they will still put their trust in sports to distract and comfort them, or if they will find other ways to deal with whatever life throws at them.

In many ways, we are all Minor League players trying to hang on to the dream for one more season, while knowing in the back of our heads that at some point we will need to put our cleats away and face life head on.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Bull Durham.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson