While Major League Baseball players reported to their “Spring” training last week, some of the big stars were notable absentees. Dodgers pitcher David Price, 34, was one of the players who has opted out of the shortened season, sighting the risk to his and his family’s health as the reason he wouldn’t be appearing.
Price, like many Major League players, is in a position where missing a year of action shouldn’t result in too much hardship – he’s currently in year five of his seven-year £174 million contract and would have made £25m this season.
The bookies’ favourites will surely miss the pitcher, but the Dodgers have a vast organisation of five Minor League teams to pick a suitable replacement from.
With no promotion-relegation in baseball, the structure differs from that which we are used to here in sports in Scotland. The standard arrangement in the US is for each MLB team to have Minor League (MiLB) affiliates where they can send players to oversee their development, freely moving them from one level to the next before they get to the big time.
The problem that teams will find this year is that those Minor League teams won’t be playing. The news, announced last week, that there wasn’t to be a Minor League season could be the killer blow to many of those humble teams.
Minor League Baseball doesn’t have the enormous TV contracts that the big leagues thrive on and without the gates open these small teams won’t survive 18 months without income.
A Minor League team brings in 60 per cent of its income from gate receipts and concessions, and that jumps to 80-90 per cent when you include merchandise.
Minor League spokesman Jeff Lantz used the phrase “we are not going to need a band-aid, we will need a tourniquet” for some, if not most of these teams to survive. And these teams must survive.
These small clubs are often where the children of America get to see their first professional baseball, and at the considerably lower cost, they get to see it on a much more regular basis.
The emphasis on fun as opposed to the must-win attitude of the big leagues makes visiting one of these small parks all the more captivating. Yes, people want to see the superstars hit home runs, but these small ballparks offer a much closer experience.
One of the consequences of being married to me is that my wife is often forced to attend sports she has little or no interest in. On one of our trips to the US we took in a Dodgers v Angels game in LA that, to me, was a must-see game. Yet my wife felt unattached and uninterested in what was happening on the field.
On another trip, we attended a Minor League game in Myrtle Beach, and she loved the experience. She enjoyed being so close to the field, the sounds of the game, and the party atmosphere that most Major League clubs forget.
The simple fact of the matter is that these Minor League teams have to work harder for your money. They have to entertain. They are always at the behest of the big clubs who can call up players whenever they feel, which means teams can’t even rely on fans connecting with individual players.
Minor League teams also have a considerable impact on the local communities, often employing hundreds of staff on a seasonal basis, being a hub for business advertising and also as contributors to the community through extensive charity work.
They are the foundation on which players build their careers. There is not a player in the Major Leagues that hasn’t spent time honing their batting technique in the Minor Leagues, and with more than half these teams at threat due to the current pandemic there has never been a better time to find a team to support.
I’m not saying jump on a plane or follow them on a ten-day road trip, but when you want some new merchandise don’t look at the big leagues. Find a small-time team and buy one of their items, because that’s where you can make a difference to baseball.
And you’ll look genuinely unique wearing a Rocket City Trash Pandas cap…
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