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.
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.
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.
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