Looking back on my days in minor league baseball, I feel like the grim reaper.
My mere presence was a terminal declaration. Williamsport Bills… dead. Maine Guides… dead. Vermont Mariners… dead. Waterbury Indians… dead. Not only is Waterbury long since kaput, but its team nickname is now verboten to utter in polite society. But wait there is more. Camden Riversharks… dead. Niedermeyer… dead.
Oh, wait. Sorry, the last one is a reference from Animal House, which incidentally had much in common with working in minor league baseball back in the day.
But the reality is, if you worked for a few different minor league baseball teams when you were young, by the time you are not young, some of those teams you once toiled endlessly and tirelessly for will have gone the way of the dodo.
For every Toledo Mud Hens and Durham Bulls, teams which seem to have been around since the dawn of time, there is a greater number of Madison Muskies, who for a brief hot second in the ’80s were the trendiest team in baseball, but have long ago moved on to baseball heaven where its fans in perpetuity do the Muskie clap, which is best described as an alligator’s jaws clamping down on its prey.
While a million words have been written and tears shed about the Brooklyn Dodgers moving onto sunny LA, we forget small towns in flyover country where minor league teams also have, on scale, the same community impact, and when they leave it hurts. It hurts the fans, community and the employees who had dedicated a decent chunk of their lives trying to make it work.
I refuse to think of my time working for teams that no longer exist as being all for naught. Even though those teams may not have lasted in perpetuity, while they were there, they provided fun family entertainment for the fans, gave professional players an opportunity to try to make the big leagues and created jobs for the local community. There is a lot to be said for all that.
Nor do I think if I had done anything different or been better at those stops I mentioned, would it have changed the ultimate outcomes of those teams leaving town. It took me a long time to catch on, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the business model for minor league baseball is the same as real estate. It is all about location, location, location.
If the local demographics, stadium or stadium financing aren’t right, your local minor-league team is nothing more than Sisyphus from Greek mythology, where you are doomed to roll a heavy rock up a hill, but never quite getting to the top.
Although most minor league teams are born to eventually fail, what endures for me is the respect for those men and women who work in minor league baseball. After all, you can tell a lot about a person’s character on a hot humid day when you rolled out a stinky, heavy, mildewy tarp for the fifth time that day, and in-between tarp rolls you slip into business wear and without missing a beat sell a promotion to a local sponsor bringing in much-needed revenue.
Of course, there is never time to celebrate in minor league baseball, as before the ink is dry on the contract, the head of the grounds crew is likely to run into the office to announce that rain is imminent again and everyone stops what they are doing to pitch in.
All of them, like Clark Kent, slipping out of their business uniform and into their tarp clothes, which are a pair of ratty jeans, wet sneakers, and t-shirt in need of a wash and then run out into the elements to do their superhero work in anonymity.
Whenever I hear from someone from my minor league past, there is a certain esprit de corps to the encounter. They are someone I once shared a figurative foxhole with. They had my back and I theirs.
Bill Buckley famously said, he’d rather be governed by names randomly picked out of the Boston phone book than the faculty of Harvard. Me? I’d like to amend that especially since there are no longer phone books. You could do a lot worse than to be governed by random people who had worked in minor league baseball.
Matthew Kastel is a guest contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds. Check out his website. Do you have a baseball story you would like to share with our 10,000-plus readers? Hit the “Write for us” link above