Late Week With Murr: Appreciate Minor League Baseball Before It Disappears

The year is 2018, and this columnist is a second-semester freshman in college. I wake up expecting to play a game for my junior varsity college baseball team at Ithaca College in Upstate New York. Naturally, our game gets canceled because of the atrocious weather in this region, and I and three friends decide to attend a minor league baseball game.

We didn’t simply decide to see the Binghamton Rumble Ponies play a regular-season game in April when the weather was less than 50 degrees, and the sky was drearily grey. We attended this matchup for a specific reason, Tim Tebow.

Tebow, the legendary quarterback of the Florida Gators and also a streaky success for the Denver Broncos, had abandoned his football career to pursue a career on the diamond, much like NBA legend Michael Jordan. Tebow was playing for the Rumble Ponies at the time and the time to see him play was now.

We attended the match, scored autographs from the legend himself, participated in a second-inning promotion, and overall had a wonderful experience. I talked with one of my friends, Tyler Rogers, a tall, right-handed pitcher, about his experience at the game.

“If you are a fan, you can get tickets pretty easily, and if you want to go then go for it,” Rogers said. “Tim Tebow was playing, and that was the main draw to go, so especially if you have a former big-time pro athlete playing, there is extra motivation to go.”

Tebow stroked an RBI double in the game, and the stadium went wild. Concessions were cheap, the pressure was low, and we college students had a blast. Rogers mentioned not having a dog in the fight made the game enjoyable, much like when our beloved Red Sox are no longer in the hunt for a World Series.

“It’s nice not rooting for a team,” Rogers said. “You can just sit back and relax and enjoy a good game.”

This anecdote of my friends and I may mean nothing to whoever reads this, but it should. This is likely your reality. Minor league baseball is both awesome and unappreciated in today’s sports landscape. These are professional level athletes, some of whom become big stars in the big leagues, and these teams still struggle with attendance.

There are die-hard minor league baseball fans, and that is truly awesome. They really have a strong impact on the team and deserve all the credit in the world. The problem is that not too many exist. Casual sports fans are perhaps the most important demographic in the industry, and they are not attending minor league baseball games at a productive rate. This may seem obvious, but it may be killing the sport.

The MLB is already in talks to reduce affiliations, and the path looks to simply lead to only a single full affiliation per team with the Triple-A level. If this happens, then someday four Ithaca College freshman will not be attending a Rumble Ponies game on a random Friday night, as the team would not exist. Tim Tebow would likely not be signed, as his roster spot is more valuable than it was at that point if only one minor league affiliate exists.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders agrees with me, as he sent this tweet out in December of 2019:

If this doesn’t make millennials pack the parks when this pandemic ends, I simply do not know what will.

The point of this column isn’t to tell you that you need to purchase season tickets to your local minor league team immediately after finishing reading my words. I am not here to tell you what to do, as frankly, you owe me nothing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attend some minor league games when this pandemic ends. The tickets are reasonable, the concessions are reasonable, and the quality of baseball is top-notch. It’s fun for all and promotions are a-plenty. Go, order a slightly overpriced alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage of your choosing, and watch a minor league game, because one day you may not have that opportunity.