In the last few pieces I’ve written about Major League Baseball’s plans to restructure Minor League Baseball (in a transparent attempt to squeeze a few dollars out of their substantially less profitable subsidiaries, but I digress) I’ve noticed a running trend. Quite a few of you have commented with remarks like ‘this isn’t a big deal to me,” or “I just can’t get all that worked up about this.”
Well, I hear you. In fact, I’ll be perfectly clear — I don’t have a personal story of how MiLB changed my fandom or anything like that. My love of baseball was solidified in games with the neighbors in our yards growing up and Little League fields in Carbon County, Utah. I didn’t see a Minor League Baseball game until I was in college, long after I’d fallen in love with the Cubs on WGN. However, all of our stories are a bit different so I posted on Twitter to see what relationship, if any, the baseball fans I follow had to MiLB.
I got a lot of great responses that I am going to share with you all below, but the biggest takeaway from the thread is that the extensive presence of Minor League Baseball in America is only helpful for increasing the number of baseball fans. What I mean by this is there wasn’t a single reply to my thread that indicated the presence of a Minor League team was harmful to someone’s formative baseball experience. Minor League Baseball is only positive or neutral in terms of creating new fans, which means limiting Minor League Baseball can only be a net negative for the overall popularity of the sport.
Let’s let the fans speak for themselves, here is a sampling of the dozens of responses I received:
A lot because I grew up in Colorado Springs and had the Sky Sox before the Rockies existed. It gave me my first live baseball experiences— Eric Garcia McKinley (@garcia_mckinley) December 11, 2020
Also to clarify. The ATLanta Braves are 3 hours from Macon, GA now. And there isn’t a MLB team within 5 hours drive for a majority of the south.— James Herndon (@JHHerndon3) December 11, 2020
When I was 8, I got to watch Randy friggen Johnson start a game for the Indianapolis Indians. There were maybe 1000 people there. I sat third row behind the plate watching him pump in 99+ FB and sliders that looked like a danged missle.— Ian Phillips (@iangphillips) December 11, 2020
In addition to Cubs games every summer, my dad took me to see the Kenosha Twins every year & I adored it. You could shake the players' hands on the way to the locker room and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.— Ken Schultz (@kenschultz_) December 11, 2020
Fandom of Cubs? Zilch. Our affiliate was Expos (ha), Dodgers (yuck) and the Marlins (blah).— DD ☘️ ️ (@DancingDays123) December 11, 2020
Fandom of baseball overall? A pretty decent amount. I was able to get first row, right next to the dugout for $12. I was in love.
I grew up near the Salt Lake Bees (formerly Buzz and Stingers) and I loved going to games as a kid. In college, my brother and I discovered that student season tickets were $50 and so we went constantly. Most of my best baseball memories are AAA games.— Jillian Edmonds (@Jillian_Edmonds) December 12, 2020
Admittedly, this isn’t scientific. And I will admit I got a handful of responses like the one below:
Not at all. I knew the Kane County Cougars were there, but they were out in the boonies. I think Schaumberg had one, too. Same thing.— Alex Sonty (@AlexSonty) December 12, 2020
But I took some time to follow up with a few of those responses and noticed a trend, specifically those were fans who had a lot of access to MLB, either through TV or proximity. They weren’t averse to farm systems or MiLB, it just didn’t factor into their fandom, sort of like my own story above:
None! First game I remember watching was braves pirates and seeing Sid bream sliding into home! Living in OK we could still watch games thanks to TBS.— Steven Treat (@streat99) December 12, 2020
The superstation age that allowed so many of us to become fans of the Cubs and the Braves is long gone, and despite mountains of evidence that those stations created generations of baseball fans, we seem to be stuck with the flailing regional sports network model that chokes off access for so many fans. I mean seriously, can you imagine anything worse than loving baseball and living in Iowa?
People become fans of baseball when they have access to it. Access requires a number of elements, including, but not limited to, affordability, proximity and knowledge of the game. Minor League Baseball boosts access for thousands of would-be fans each year and for a sport that claims to want to grow its fanbase, it’s an unfathomably bad idea to further limit access to baseball.