By Guest Writers Gareth Von Kallenbach and Paul Zevgolis
Once known as true baseball, the minor leagues seemed to have lost the passion that was once its strength. Stadiums with intimate confines, a fun family atmosphere and a "at home" feel that relaxed players to the point where a fan could carry on conversations with them along the baseline before and even during the game. The inviting atmosphere that once defined and separated minor league baseball has been replaced by empty stadiums with teams struggling to stay in business; this is a microcosm of professional sports in America today, more business than sport.
On a balmy June evening at the local Minor league ballpark the hometown team drops a tough game in a fierce battle for the division lead, but by the attendance one would have guessed they were fighting to stay out of last. The players are not only playing for a chance at winning a championship, but also a shot to be promoted to the big ball club and that one chance to achieve their boyhood dream of being in the big leagues. The passion with which these guys are playing embodies what baseball should be all about, but their efforts go unnoticed and often get mentioned on the back page of the local sports paper.
Once a booming trend, the attention and fanfare of minor league baseball seems to be bottoming out. Once, fans attended in mass whether it was for the quirky nightly promotion or to simply show a little hometown pride and route on the local team. Most parks were at or near capacity on a nightly basis, so why the decline in the game?
A number of things are said to have contributed to this decline. First, with a number of Major League ball clubs practically holding their cities at gunpoint the trend seems to have worked its way down to the Minor League system; the Minor League ball clubs were able to justify this claim by the number of fans attending on a nightly basis. New ballparks mean that money must be raised and with most Minor League parks in smaller towns, fans were often opposed to tax initiatives. As a result, clubs raised prices on tickets and concessions to compensate for their shortcomings. The Minor Leagues mantra was one of affordability, and the changes made a night that used to cost a family of four about thirty dollars now approach seventy after tickets, parking and refreshments are factored in.
Another culprit is Major League expansion. Expansion has put Major League teams virtually in the same market as some Minor League teams, making it less desirable to see a game in an antiquated ballpark with lesser quality of players (partly due to expansion necessitating early player call ups) when they could see the star studded event in a nicer park for maybe twenty or so dollars more.
Minor league baseball thrived in pre over expansion era, and seemed to be the refuge for fans during labor strife, but how long can the business of Minor League baseball survive in the midst of a constant economic crisis and dwindling fan interest in a game that has lost much of it's luster? The traditions that helped make this form of baseball a success is long gone, and the landscape of baseball has changed forever with the skyrocketing payrolls and demanding owners on all levels. Fans have become jaded from being in the middle of a power struggle between players and owners. One has to wonder if the purist form of baseball can recapture its lost lure and symbiotic relationship with the fans, giving families a fun enjoyable and affordable summer evening out, giving old timers more evenings of congregating with old friends about the state of affairs concerning the team and even the town. Greed is tearing the heart out of the game, and seems to be keeping fans away from the pure form of baseball. One has to ponder what can be done to remedy the situation and restore things to their rightful state, so summers can return to the days of old, with the enchanting stadiums that define baseball filled with families and fans rooting on the local team bringing passion back to a game that so desperately needs it.