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Amateur Baseball Draws Fans to Minor League Stadiums

28 Jul, 2020

By: Michael Popke

Here's some great news: stadium operators are finding new baseball teams to play on their fields.

As NPR.org reports, under a headline reading “Baseball-Starved Fans Turn Out To Watch Middle-Aged Men Play,” Regions Field in Birmingham, Ala., opened its gates to teams in the Central Alabama Baseball Association, a local amateur league comprised of men 35 years and older. (The stadium is home to the Birmingham Barons, a Class AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.)

“There are so many people that just yearn for some sense of normalcy, and coming out to the ballpark having a beer, having a hot dog, having a Coke, hearing the crack of the bat,” Barons general manager Jonathan Nelson told NPR reporter Melanie Peeples. “We hope that we’re being able to satisfy in some fashion.”

On one July evening, about 200 fans showed up at the ballpark to watch two teams named after MLB clubs (the Red Sox and the Yankees) featuring players they’d never heard of (including 73-year-old Gary Broach).

The Barons aren’t the only minor league team seeking to give both fans and local ballplayers new opportunities. According to NPR: “In Michigan, the Lansing Lugnuts have put together something they’re calling a Lemonade League, which will bring in college baseball players to play in their stadium. The Pacific League in California is working on something similar. If it continues to spread, more and more fans all across the country won’t have to go an entire summer without baseball.”

It’s spreading.

Four cities with independent baseball teams in the 12-team American Association of Independent Professional Baseball — Fargo, N.D.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Franklin, Wis.; and Rosemont, Ill. — also are playing ball “in front of fans, cautiously, joyfully, but hardly normally,” according to The New York Times.

“After months of uncertainty, the American Association, an independent league where players make about two-grand a month and whose rosters are filled with former minor leaguers and sprinkled with former big leaguers, began its season over the Fourth of July weekend,” the Times reports. “Six teams in four cities. Blocked from hosting games in Canada, the Winnipeg Goldeyes are playing their home games in Fargo … The St. Paul Saints will play theirs in Sioux Falls, where for a recent series they dressed in a hockey arena that was hosting a Professional Bull Riders competition and walked across a parking lot, cleats crunching on the pavement, to get to the field.”

A limited number of general admission tickets are available to fans, who aren’t always wearing masks but who socially distance themselves from others. At least two players from the Milwaukee Milkmen tested positive, resulting in the cancelation of one game. The two players were quarantined in a hotel until cleared to return to the field.

“There’s no script for this,” said Duell Higbe, general manager of the Sioux Falls Canaries. “Nobody’s done this before. We’re rolling with the punches every single day.”

The Frontier League, with 14 independent teams, is doing something similar in New Jersey with the formation of the six-team All-American Baseball Challenge. Teams play 32 games at three Frontier League stadiums, and rosters feature professional, amateur and recent college baseball players, including some players from Frontier League teams. Games are played every Thursday through Sunday for eight weeks beginning July 23.

According to the Daily Record in Rockaway, N.J., the Sussex County Miners and Skylands Cardinals will play at Skylands Stadium in Augusta, N.J., the Rockland Boulders and New York Brave will play at Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, N.Y., and the New Jersey Jackals and Jersey Wise Guys will play at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, N.J.

“It’s been tough up and down mentally, professionally and personally for me,” Miners general manager Justin Ferrarella told the newspaper. “But just the feeling that baseball is back is uplifting for everybody around here, uplifting for the community, uplifting for the stadium.”

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