Tag Archives: MiLB

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

 

MLB’s Push to Play Ball in 2020 is Heading into Extra Innings

Negotiations continue to heat up between representatives of baseball owners, and representatives of baseball players, in an attempt to salvage some sort of 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season.

One of the latest rumors floating around, as reported by several outlets, includes a proposal from the owners to play a 50-game season, followed by expanded playoffs and a World Series. The players representatives have proposed playing as many as 114-games starting around the July Fourth Weekend.

As I have stated many times, I miss baseball and would love to see it played again. I have also said many times, in many ways, that I do not miss baseball to the point that I would want to see a fan-free condensed season just so someone can pat themselves on the back and say, “hooray, we had a 2020 MLB season.” Fifty games a season does not make. Even at 114 games, the risk trade of having a season, versus not having a season does not come out in favor of playing ball.

As part of the proposals being floated around it was reported that players will have the option to sit the season out if they do not feel safe playing ball in the era of the global COVID-19 pandemic. While players would not be paid if they sit the season out, they would get credited with a year of baseball service.

Baseball in the olden days, like during Spring Training of this year, involved crammed dugouts. The baseball in the new time of COVID-19 will look very different.
Photo R. Anderson

Any final agreement on playing the 2020 baseball season must allow players to opt out, and I applaud that position being addressed through the negotiations.

While I am firmly entrenched in my stance that baseball just needs to sit this year out and try again next year, I know that there are people who will disagree. This other side of the coin from my position feels that having baseball, any baseball, is just what is needed during these times of pandemic and civil unrest.

Although I do not agree with that position, I respect that position, just as I would hope that people on the other side would respect mine. Society works best when people can have a healthy productive debate on an issue, agree to disagree, and part with respect for the other person’s opinion.

But from where I am sitting, I have yet to hear a strong enough case that baseball, any amount of baseball, this year would be in the best interest of all involved. Let me state my case.

I get that there are huge financial stakes for both the owners and the players if baseball is not played this year. I also understand that the players in the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) ranks are being hardest hit by a lack of games, as in many cases they are about to lose their paychecks.

Sean Doolittle and other members of the Defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals, committed to give MiLB players within the Nationals organization financial assistance during the time without baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

In regards to the players of MiLB, I am encouraged by the stories of MLB players, like, David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Sean Doolittle and other members of the Washington Nationals, committing to give MiLB players financial assistance.

In making the announcement on his Twitter page, Doolittle noted that, “All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times.”

I am also encouraged by the stories I see of MiLB Ballparks, like the home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and Sugar Land Skeeters, finding creative ways to generate revenue inside their facilities during this absence of games.

I do not pretend to believe that financial hardships do not exist in baseball, but in many cases the financial strain that they are feeling is a drop in the bucket compared to the issues being faced by small businesses and employees across the country who have lost their livelihoods and jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A word to baseball as you air your grievances about trying to make sure you get your money by having some sort of season, know the room. You may find that many of the fans that you count on to support you will get a bitter taste in their mouths by reading stories of you arguing over millions of dollars, when many of them are wondering which bill they won’t pay this month in order that they can eat.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos listed their ballpark on Airbnb as a way to generate revenue during the stoppage of baseball brought about by COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

If baseball, any baseball, is played this year, of course the players should be paid.

Furthermore, they should be paid well for risking their lives during a pandemic just to bring people at home some distraction from the world events around them. They just need to ensure that the discussions regarding how much they should get paid do not come off as ignoring the suffering around them, and the bigger picture.

This is a tricky point, as well as a sticky point. With no fans in the stands, creating a strictly made for television game so that networks and teams can make revenue to pay players for playing that game can come across as rather tone deaf.

But wait, the owners will say, “in some cities we are allowed to have up to 25 percent capacity in our Ballparks, so there will be fans in the stands for the games.”

And how exactly is the 25 percent decided upon?

I am sure most teams have season ticket holders for more than 25 percent of the seats in a Ballpark. Let us also not forget all of those corporate funded luxury suites that surround many Ballparks. So, do season ticket holders and suite users get first crack at seeing a game in person, versus someone who just buys a couple of tickets a season? Don’t even get me started on how one would be able to socially distance at a concession stand.

Do teams set up a Hunger Games style lottery where everyone puts their names in a hat and hopes that the Ballpark fortunes are forever in their favor?

I welcome being shown if there is a way to equitably pick 25 percent of a fan base to sit in the stands for a game. Until then, from my seat here, I conclude that more problems are created than solved by starting to let fans into the Ballparks at reduced capacity.

As part of any return to action, players would be socially distanced within the dugout and would be prevented from any physical contact with each other such as high fives, hugs, etc.
Photo R. Anderson

Another issue to consider is the health of both players and fans attending these games. As part of any return to action, players would be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.

Additionally, as I noted in a previous column, players would be socially distanced within the dugout and would be prevented from any physical contact with each other such as high fives, hugs, etc.

Even if I am willing to concede that players could be socially distanced in the dugout, and on the field, there is still the issue of dirty balls. Most balls I have seen put into play are touched by a lot of people.

A ball that is part of a routine double play has the potential to be touched by up to four players, and that is before the ball goes around the horn in the infield. And telling a pitcher that they can’t lick their fingers before a pitch is probably not going to go over too well.

How to socially distance during mound visits is one of many areas that will need to be figured out before baseball returns during the COVID-19 era.
Photo R. Anderson

Again, make no mistake, I miss baseball. But I have yet to see a proposal where the benefit of a return of baseball outweighs the risks. And I am sorry, but the champion of a shortened, round robin, regionally based, season does not deserve to be called World Series Champion in the same light as a team that battled for a full season in the past.

The record books of baseball would be much better served by a line item saying, “the 2020 season was cancelled due to a global pandemic brought about by COVID-19, but returned even stronger in 2021,” then trying to pass off a team that played a third of the games in a normal season as the champion.

If players and teams want to stage a 50-game exhibition season as a measure of goodwill that is one thing. But, don’t try to play 50 games in empty ballparks and try to call it a season. You are so so much better than that baseball.

So, in conclusion, stay home baseball. Take care of yourself, and I will hopefully see you next spring. I care too much about you to have you risk your health, and the health of those who play you just so somebody can unfurl a “mission accomplished 2020 World Series Champion” banner inside your Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some books about baseball to catch up on.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson