From players to vendors to pubs to municipalities, canceling the minor league baseball season has an impact beyond what happens on the field
Imagine the minor league baseball experience that is attending a live game. To start, we would probably go online to a site or call in to purchase some tickets. If we felt risky, maybe we waited to talk to someone at the booth just before entering. We find a place to park affordably and get waved in. We do some walking around downtown, and perhaps make a stop at a local spot around the ballpark to get waited on for dinner or a couple of beverages before we enter.
We would be greeted by vendors selling programs or teens playing drums on five-gallon buckets. We would enter with our tickets by an employee while someone else guided our items through the metal detector. Maybe we stopped at a concession spot to grab another drink or stopped in the team store for some apparel. An usher would welcome us to the game and escort us to our seats.
We would watch the game we love played by talented athletes capable of one day reaching the major leagues. We hear an announcer keep us entertained between innings. We see the cheer-leading interns hype up the crowd. We get constantly marketed to by a slew of sponsors. Vendors surround advertising drinks, treats, and eats. After the game, we head back to our car. We stop for gas since we were nearly out upon arrival before we make it out of town.
Minor League Baseball made an announcement on Twitter on Tuesday that none of these interactions or transactions would happen this season–that the minor league seasons would officially be canceled. This comes in an anticipated move by the league which had just undergone intense negotiations to even have a major league season. Considering minor league players are not represented by the Player’s Association, it is easy to understand why MLB made the decision to not supply players for the affiliates across the nation.
What a feeling it must be for players, who are not well-compensated, to begin with, to pour their soul into a game that is largely unforgiving for a dream to one day call themselves a major league baseball player–all just to get robbed of a significant portion of their career; or possibly ending it altogether. Perhaps the most frustrating part in it all, though, is I am not convinced there is anyone to blame. Playing an intimate game in the middle of a pandemic as we watch current MLB players contract the virus or opt-out of playing completely continues to further my belief that from a public health perspective, the time for baseball may not be right. Nevertheless, minor league players would undoubtedly have appreciated getting the same liberty of playing or opting out.
As much as this is about baseball, though, it goes beyond that. Each interaction above that comes with attending a baseball game has a vested interest in that game and a municipality that is counting on the tax revenue that would come from fans entering town for a minor league baseball game. Feeling terrible for players is justified; but there are also bartenders, clerks, security officers, ushers, marketing employees, parking lot owners, and others who will also gravely suffer from such a decision being made. Meanwhile, all fans can hope to do is pour some extra support into these cities and teams in 2021.
The question for many remains, “What do the players do now?” While many of Detroit’s top prospects were included on their 60-man roster and will attend Summer Camp in Detroit, the majority of players within the organization will be out of work. Emily Waldon of The Athletic recently mentioned that minor league players would be permitted to play independent baseball, but that the results or injuries that may result from playing could result in termination.
Repetitions in the minor leagues are essential and cannot be understated; as these players continue to mature and develop physically, it is vital they continue to work their craft in a lost season. I would love to see some forward-thinking organizations innovate through workouts in small groups, traveling players at the team’s expense, implementing some virtual coaching sessions, or even some players linking up on their own to play if they feel safe.
If we are looking for the silver lining as a Detroit Tigers fan, there was an interesting note in a letter drawn up by Joe Napoli and Erik Ibsen from the Toledo Mud Hens:
"The Detroit Tigers announced that the team’s alternate training location for their ‘taxi squad’ this upcoming season will be Fifth Third Field. Following the completion of spring training in late July, a pool of their players will begin working out at the ballpark. Our hope is that fans will be able to come Fifth Third Field to watch the workouts and intrasquad scrimmages. We will share those plans with you as soon as they become finalized."
Certainly, we want to see Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Riley Greene, and Spencer Torkelson all in Detroit one day, but seeing them on the same field in person at all would be a win for Tigers fans who haven’t seen much of those on or off the field recently.
Minor league baseball is simply the latest casualty to what has been a rippling effect across the fabric of our society. While we will not be able to see minor league baseball in 2020, this will grant a new appreciation for it in 2021 and beyond.