Minor league baseball isn’t for the average baseball fan.
It’s for every baseball fan.
It doesn’t matter that 85% of the players won’t make it to the major leagues or that you probably won’t even remember their names if they do. And it doesn’t matter that the teams have mascots such as the Iron Pigs, Mud Hens, Stormchasers, Isotopes, Rainiers, Squirrels, and Sea Wolves.
It’s baseball, it’s cheap, and there is no shortage of free merchandise that is launched into the stands over the course of nine innings.
Last week I went to my fourth minor league baseball game and it did not disappoint.
I was vacationing in Florida and found out that the Pittsburgh Pirates had a Class A Advanced team called the Bradenton Marauders only twenty minutes away. Talk about convenience! With nearly 250 minor league teams, there is almost guaranteed to be one within an hour or two of anywhere in the continental U.S.
I couldn’t have picked a better day to go.
Minor league teams often have promotions to draw fans and it just happened to be “Plunder your Hunger!” night at the ballpark (the fourth promotion in five days), where all of the tickets were $12 for general seating, a deal in itself, and each customer got a wristband for an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet featuring Jimmy Johns subs, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, hot dogs, popcorn, and peanuts.
I’m quite confident that I ate twelve dollars worth of food before I even reached my third row seats, in which I was sandwiched between the right fielder’s girlfriend and a handful of Pirates scouts bearing radar guns and clipboards.
Then came the first of many surprises throughout the night.
I got to witness a marriage proposal take place on the on-deck circle before the game. She said yes, and all of the seventeen fans who were in attendance at that point cheered. The marriage proposal package also included a picture with Marty the Marauder and throwing out the first pitch.
I saw the future groom sitting by himself for the entire game, so his girlfriend may have backed out already out of embarrassment. But if you happen to have a girlfriend who follows Single A baseball passionately, or has a weird liking for mascots, then this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t pass up.
My friends and I won our first merchandise when the announcer asked for any fans who are from north of Pittsburgh to come to the front office. One of my friends had flown from Boston and came running back triumphantly with his free Andrew McCutchen bobblehead.
The second inning brought out the T-shirt cannons. An over-the-shoulder catch, and a leaping, one-handed snag later, and we had two more souvenirs.
The sixth inning brought about the call from the P.A. for fans to check under their seats for a $15 Hooters gift card. It was our lucky day. We turned that yellow piece of paper into 20 chicken wings, sodas, and superb service from our waitress Ami after the game.
I’ll admit, at times the quality of the baseball made me cringe.
Seeing the opposing Brevard County Manatees allow a run to score when the Marauders had runners on first and third and the runner on first got into a pickle, allowing for the runner on third to score, made sink back into my seat. The team I was on in seventh grade practiced defending that play for fifteen minutes every practice to prevent runners from scoring that way, yet Major League prospects were fooled by it!
However, a few diving, Web Gem-worthy snags in the outfield made up for it.
Plus, the quality of the baseball does not define a trip to a minor league ballpark. The atmosphere, ability to sit as close to the field as you would like, and the number of giveaways you haul back to your car after the game do.
Among other elements that make minor league baseball special:
- Hearing the outfielders talk to each other in Spanish.
- Fans making snide remarks to opposing players (“Lets try to be smart on the base paths this time #2!”).
- Having the players on the receiving end of the verbal abuse sneak furtive glances in the stands to identify their antagonizers.
- Hearing fans heckling the umpire (“We know you’re blind, we’ve seen your wife.”).
- Knowing that he heard the insults but can’t do anything about them.
- Crossing your fingers that a manager’s argument with the home plate umpire turns into a ten-minute tirade that involves throwing the resin bag as a grenade and will be featured on SportsCenter the next morning.
Heck, businesses even sponsor plays throughout the game. When a Manatee base runner was thrown out trying to steal second, the announcer went on the P.A. and said “Caught stealing? Contact Johnson & Johnson, Attorneys At Law.”
It’s America’s Game that we love so much, with the addition of extra quirks and fanfare that is hard to find at a Major League Baseball game, or any other professional sporting event for that matter.
Set aside an evening to go watch a minor league baseball game.
What’s the worst thing that can happen? You’ll spend $10-$15 for great seats to watch mediocre baseball and you’ll leave with an XL t-shirt that you would think twice about wearing it in public.
Don’t knock it until you try it because who knows, you may propose/be proposed to right behind home plate at a minor league game some day.