Baseball Quickening Its Own Demise By Eliminating Minor Leagues
Wilmer Flores Is Just One Example Of How Minor Leaguers Bring In Young Fans
In spite of all of its lip service to make the game more appealing to future generations, Major League Baseball continues to do things that will instead result in the exact opposite effect. A decision made earlier this week, and right smack in the middle of a pandemic that has suspended the season, might just serve as the proverbial nail in the coffin.
The disinterest began of course a few decades ago, when baseball officials sold the sport to TV networks. That deal alienated legions of fans by erasing it from any over the air stations, who disregarded younger fans by scheduling games that would not end until well after their bed time.
Then baseball began pricing itself out of reach to most families, who could hardly afford to fork over the two hundred dollars the average parents must spend on tickets, parking, and concessions for their two children. Instead of attending five to ten games a year, as my family did in the Seventies and Eighties, middle class folks are now limited to one or two.
Perhaps the best way to pull in young fans was at the Minor League level, where the games were much more affordable and the players more accessible. Now that MLB has obliterated most of these small town affiliate leagues, even fewer youngsters will get the chance to develop a love for the game.
I can provide a first hand account of how a league at the lowest rung, therefore one most likely to be eliminated, converted two young fans.
It was at the Appalachian League, which is considered rookie ball, where my six and seven year old daughters started to embrace the game nearly as much as their old man.
While visiting relatives in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, I took my daughters to nearby Johnson City, a Tennessee town with an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. We purchased three tickets, some concessions, and two souvenirs, all of which ended up costing a grand total of thirty dollars.
Not only was the event inexpensive, but the experience of the game was invaluable. We sat right along the first base line, where my daughters could hear the chatter of the players.
After the game most of them gathered to introduce themselves and sign autographs, so my daughters were obviously enthralled. One player even asked us where we were from, while enthusiastically signing both of our baseballs.
He said his name was Blake King, he came from Oklahoma, and he was a left handed pitcher. He also asked my daughters if they had heard of Mickey Mantle, to which they replied no.
"Well, on your way back to Cincinnati, let your dad tell you about him," Blake said. "He happens to be my uncle."
I of course explained what The Mick had meant to baseball in the Sixties, citing several of the records he had set for the New York Yankees. When we reached home, my younger daughter took out an encyclopedia she had won in a school contest and looked up Mickey Mantle.
They both proudly displayed their autographed baseballs, and the following summer we took in another Appalachian League game. This time we visited Kingsport, an affiliate of the New York Mets.
Just like the previous year, we enjoyed an inexpensive and memorable experience. Our seats allowed a great closeup view of the players, who made themselves available for autographs afterwards.
We departed with smiles on our faces, impressed with the friendliness of the team and its employees. Also in our possession were autographed baseballs, which joined the table displaying the one signed by Blake King.
One of the new ones eventually grew even more special, since its signer a few years later became a regular shortstop in the Big Leagues. Not only did we drive to see Wilmer Flores when the Mets came to Great American Ball Park, but we also flew to New York to see him play in his home park.