One of the ways I pass my idle time is by thinking of improvements to a sport that has been around for over 150 years. Perhaps my ego is just big enough to think that I can, in some way, make things a tiny bit better than the thousands who have worked in baseball over that span. Well, my latest idea I am sure has some holes in it, but has some merits too (obviously, or I would not be writing about it) – minor league parks, especially Spring Training stadiums, should have similar dimensions as those of the Major League Baseball (MLB) parent clubs. After all, if your time in Florida or Arizona is supposed to prepare you for 80+ games in one particular stadium, plus 80 games in various others across the league, wouldn’t it make sense to re-acclimate yourself with what you can and cannot do while playing at home?
I know this idea has some major drawbacks. Most notably, the money would it take for clubs to adjust their existing facilities and the question of who would pay for such adjustments. I know that many people enjoy the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) park atmospheres and the unique designs of some of the parks. While I don’t think dimensional adjustments would impact the way people view a minor league park, I could be wrong and fans could embrace the differences of their park to that of the parent club’s. The one significant drawback I thought of in relation to this idea was that while the Tigers have a long standing relationship with their MiLB partners, the same cannot be said of the other 29 organizations that make up the MLB.
Truthfully though, while I did think of this while watching a snippet of a Red Sox Spring Training game, the overall idea is not to have exact replicas littered throughout the minors. Rather, the idea is that while some teams have overall concepts of players at each position should be and how their pitchers should throw, I don’t think the same can be said of the parks those players call home as they grow through the ranks. If I was running the Detroit Tigers, I would want my future players gaining experience in parks with an expansive outfield. The Red Sox, I would think, would want players who are accustomed to having a massive wall in LF and a right-center field wall that is approximately 30 inches high. Clubs such as the Phillies, Reds, Orioles, and White Sox may want smaller parks along their minor league trail so the pitchers within those systems are accustomed to long fly balls outs turning into short home runs. There are, of course, some obvious exceptions to this idea. For one, I don’t think the Astros’ franchises need to have a ski slope in center though. Nor do the Miami Marlin farm hands need to be exposed to a mid-80’s discotheque at every stop along their path to the majors. I would also not have the MiLB clubs under the Tampa Bay Rays take away 2/3 of their seating to replicate the home crowd experience at Tropicana Stadium.
While dimensions can be overplayed by many, they are truly a factor in what sets baseball apart from every other sport. Essentially, every football field is the same as the next, same goes for soccer, hockey and basketball. Baseball is the one sport where the playing environment can have an impact every single game….and teams can use that environment to their advantage. One would think that, with the renewed movement towards unique designs of stadiums. clubs would want their players to have as much experience with that uniqueness as possible (and yes, I understand that it would, in turn, make those place a bit less unique). I think fans, as amateur scouts would appreciate it too. They could see a young CFer track down a long fly ball and easily envision that young man playing ion Comerica Park. As they watch their hometown players take the field every game they could more easily envision how those guys would translate in Detroit from offensive, defensive and pitching prospective. The same could certainly be said for other fan bases who have parks with qualities all of their own (like the aforementioned Red Sox). Fan in New England would have much less to worry about with a rookies in LF if they knew that those guys have been dealing with a Monster-like substance for the past few years as they got ready for the MLB debut.
I know the chances of changes like this taking place are slim. It is fun to dream though. Who knows, maybe someone will read this and realize that making an adjustment like this could provide a small competitive advantage over their peers.