Take the family to a minor league baseball game this year. It’s cheaper than the big league experience and there are ballparks all over the USA, so it’s an easy add-on to a road trip vacation. Find out how one TravelingDad feeds his baseball obsession all season long.
I’ve been a fan of Major League Baseball for as long as I can remember. Growing up in New York, I was a New York Yankees fan. Despite this, my very first professional baseball game was a New York Mets game. They played the Cubs. It was in 1984. Why a Mets game, you may ask? Well, Shea Stadium in Queens was a lot closer to my Long Island hometown than Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. There was also the fact that the South Bronx wasn’t exactly what you would call a garden spot in my youth.
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My dad did eventually get me to Yankee Stadium, though. I’d never seen greener grass. I loved the whole experience of seeing the big leagues in person. The field, the baseball players, the crowd, the food…all of it. I still do. The only problem is that I live 30 miles from the nearest professional baseball team. Then, if I get up there for a game, it’s probably going to be a $200+ day for my family and me to be able to eat some grub and sit in seats that don’t require supplemental oxygen.
So, what’s a baseball fan like me to do? I’ve got three words for you: Minor League Baseball.
AA Baseball: Up Close and Personal
I’ve been a fan of Minor League Baseball (MILB) almost as long as the big leagues. It’s got a different feel to it – one that harkens back to the earlier times of baseball, when it was the most important thing in a boy’s life.
My first game was seeing the Oneonta Yankees at Damaschke Field in Oneonta, New York. My experience at that game is actually a great example of what makes MILB a more personal experience. During that game, there was a foul ball hit down the left field line. It came to rest under a wood support for the fence that surrounded the field. So, I left the bleachers and ran down to try to find it, but I couldn’t. It was at this point that the left fielder started verbally directing me to where I could find the ball to make sure I got my trophy! So cool, right?
Even at double-a and triple-a (AAA) games, I have had similar experiences! I mean, what MLB team is going to ask me, a fan but certainly not a celebrity, to throw out the first pitch before a game? I’ll tell you what Minor League Baseball team did: the Harrisburg Senators! On a recent trip to the Harrisburg/Hershey, PA area with a few of my TravelingDad brethren, I actually got to realize a lifelong dream! I threw out the first pitch at a professional baseball game! They announced my name over the public address! I was live on video on their scoreboard! I got to throw it to one of the catchers for the Senators! And best of all, I didn’t screw up!! It went straight down the middle! That catcher could end up playing for the Fresno Grizzlies next, and the Nationals after that!
Minor League Baseball = Major League Fun
Something that MLB seems to have co-opted from MILB are the entertaining activities they do between innings to keep fans excited and entertained. The running of the Presidents at Washington Nationals home games or the Famous Racing Sausages at Milwaukee Brewers home games can trace their history back to the minors.
Fans at MILB games can frequently get involved in these contests like some of our Traveling Dads did in Harrisburg. My buddies participated in balloon pop relays and fired T-shirt cannons; entertaining to me for sure, and hopefully the rest of the crowd as well.
Another great aspect of the minor league teams is the incredible originality of their team names. Here are some examples: the Albuquerque Isotopes, the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Erie Seawolves, the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Being a collector of baseball jerseys, those seem like ones I’d like to have in the closet. A lot more interesting than the San Francisco Giants or the Atlanta Braves, right?
Also, it can be a lot easier to snag an autograph from the players at a Durham Bulls or Pawtucket Red Sox game than it would be at a Houston Astros or Texas Rangers game. You should hold onto those, too, because you never know if that player will blast his way into the majors!
AAA Value at the Minor Leagues
As I mentioned at the beginning, bringing your family to see Major League Baseball can be cost prohibitive. It’s hard to justify hundreds of dollars to see something in person that you can watch at home on television for free and in air conditioning.
This is where Minor League Baseball really shines. After I finished throwing out the first pitch for the Harrisburg Senators, I got to sit in some GREAT seats behind home plate that included unlimited food for $35. Sitting in the same seats in some MLB parks could cost ten times that! Moreover, I will honestly say that the quality of play from these minor leaguers definitely makes the reduced cost an incredible bargain.
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Even top prospects are expected to make their way up through the system before they get to play for the Blue Jays, the Dodgers or the Phillies. That means you may see tomorrow’s big stars way back before they got there. And for less money!
The stadiums themselves are also great facilities. Don’t get me wrong. They’re not all like Camden Yards in Baltimore where the Orioles play, but the food is good and the grass is just as green!
I’ve been a New York Yankees fan all my life and that is the team I most often want to see playing (and hopefully, winning). But I’m also a baseball fan who just loves going to the ballpark. But that’s not always possible, either because of economics or geography. That’s why I love minor league teams.
I’m thinking I need to combine these two things into a trip to Tampa. Not only do I have a close friend living there, but it’s home to the Yankees spring training and the Tampa area has many minor league teams. Minor League baseball is an experience that is just as fun yet more accessible for regular trips to see our National Pastime the way it is meant to be experience: in person.