If you happened to be on the internet recently there’s a pretty good chance that you saw a video of a heroic cat rescuing a 4-year-old named Jeremy from a vicious Labrador-chow mix. On May 20th that cat, Tara, was tapped to throw out the first pitch for the Bakersfield Blaze — a Single-A Cincinnati Reds Affiliate. All things considered, Tara did pretty well.
This general ethos of not taking yourself too seriously is at the core of Minor League Baseball. Sure, the schedules are long and the players are vying for spots in the bigs, but for the rest of us, games are simply a welcome respite from the melodramatic world of professional sport.
Brevard Manatees (Single-A, Milwaukee Brewers)
Modesto Nuts (Single-A, Colorado Rockies)
Asheville Tourists (Single-A, Colorado Rockies)
Jamestown Jammers (Single-A, Pittsburgh Pirates)
The sprawling organization that is Minor League Baseball has been around nearly as long as professional baseball itself. Baseball’s first years as a pro sport were unruly ones; between 1871 and 1875 an open league resulted in hugely uncompetitive games and an unwieldy amounts of teams, but in 1876 professional baseball became a significantly more exclusive and expensive affair with the introduction of The National League. Excluded small teams organized into smaller sub-leagues outside of the MLB and became the basis of today’s minor league. Over time, scouting and drafting rules have changed (it’s a murky process and a discussion for a different time) and more sub-leagues have formed a landscape that includes more than 240 teams and three general strata. Triple-A leagues are the closest to the MLB, and most major league teams will keep at least some of their roster playing in triple-A instead of riding the bench. Double-A is a tier below and will often see young stars getting some at-bats on their way up to the big leagues. And Class-A is the breeding ground for even greener talent (including but not limited to heroic cats).
That’s about all you need to know, because Minor League baseball is the game distilled. You get all the beauty of a 150-year-old-sport free from egos, 10-year contracts, HGH scandals and $10 beers.
The taking things seriously? Not so much. This becomes evident as soon as you start googling around to find your nearest team. You’ll come across names like the Akron RubberDucks, Richmond Flying Squirrels, Hickory Crawdads and (the author’s pick) Montgomery Biscuits, mascotted by the inimitable “Monty”, an anthropomorphized buttermilk biscuit.
The enjoyment doesn’t stop at the names either — the theme nights are often hilarious and infinitely better than “free schedule magnet presented by Budweiser, Citibank and Haliburton day” at your local MLB stadium. A small sampling from the Brooklyn Cyclones’ upcoming schedule promises Seinfeld Night (complete with Keith Hernandez Bobblehead), Superhero Costume Day, Elvis night and fireworks every Saturday and Sunday.
Other things the minor leagues have going for them: many of the stadiums are some of the most storied, historical places in all of American sport; the most expensive tickets are no more than $25; beer is like three bucks; and the Trenton Thunder (Double-A Yankees affiliate) have a dynasty of bat dogs.
And with so many teams there’s probably one close to you. So when you’re looking for something to do on a Friday night this summer, put down the overpriced lifestyle cocktails and go take in the American Pastime at its absolute best.