Greetings and salutations, fine folks! Here we are, less than 60 some-ought sleeps from the minor league season's Opening Day. Despite the fact it remains cold as kitty titties and you're still trying to figure out why the NFL felt compelled to have the Chili Peppers momentarily invade Bruno Mars' shit-hot set, believe me when I tell you, "It's Coming!" Baseball's coming back, it always does. It's an expertly launched boomerang. So, this is the time of year when I implore you to pick your minor leaguers. Yep, yep, YOUR minor leaguers. As in "that's my guy!" Don't have a favorite minor leaguer? No worries, we can help.
I'm not asking you to pick an entire club, although if you live close to one of Texas' fine affiliates 1.) I hope it's Myrtle Beach and 2.) more power to you- root for the whole damn team! But most folks I've sent down this path over the last few years, simply settle on a couple fellas. So do that. Got a family member you watch baseball with? Tell 'em you're both picking a minor leaguer to track this season. Got a friend who obsesses over the Rangers with you? Tell 'em you're both going to follow the same kid, rooting him on, from a distance, through the ups and the downs. Need a reason to start a conversation with a teenager who thinks you're the dumbest person in the world? Start a chat with "How about we keep an eye on this Rougned Odor kid this year. How do you pronounce his name again?" You get the point. Utilize baseball's binding power to ride the roller coaster that is minor league life.
Now, how to select "your guy".
1.) As I mentioned, if you live within driving distance of an affiliate, it might help to pick a kid who is likely destined to play at that affiliate. Rosters are still two months away from being announced, but you can make an educated guess with most players. If not, let me know and I'll tell you where I think that fella is likely to be stationed for the bulk of the 2014 season. Then we can be wrong, together. Picking one headed to a town near you is especially helpful if you're tracking a player with the help of a kid. Junior is gonna be a lot more interested in checking the box score if he/she understands, "Hey, when school gets out, we'll head to a couple games to check our guy out in person." Who knows, while at the game you might also notice that same juicy feeling you get when you see your favorite big leaguer, right in front of you, in person, with your own eyes. That's a good buzz.
2.) Pick a player whose skill-set and/or personality you enjoy at the big league level. You know, homers get you going? You like big dudes and the allure of a pitched pill being sent into high-orbit? Cool. There's a couple of those kids. You like defensive wizards? You wait for the 'Web Gems" on Baseball Tonight? Excellent. Texas has a couple glove-men. Like a fiery reliever who throws serious heat? A soft-spoken reliever who throws damn-near underhand? Yep. Texas' got 'em. One word of warning here, some tools won't show up in the box score. Namely, "glove". But understanding that your guy is known for having a good glove will make it a lot cooler when he goes 13-for-28 at the dish one week. You can pull for a kid because he's from your alma mater, your hometown, your home-state, or your home-country. Most of these guys have had something written, at some point, about their makeup too. Looking for a quiet assassin, a man of faith, a tall guy, a short guy, a guy who's overcome more adversity than most? Every system's got 'em, and Texas' is no different.
3.) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, figure out the point of the exercise. The big point, man. I'm a dreamer and I'm one of those guys who believes (sometimes naively) that sports can bring out the best in us. If you go to a bunch of Rangers' games every year and you want to follow a kid who has a clear chance of playing in RBiA someday, go that route. If you're trying to teach a youngster that sometimes playing your ass off, and just showing up everyday counts, pick one of those type 'o guys. If you genuinely want to get more into the minor league system and its players, pick a kid destined for A-ball and make him your guy for a few years. For the most part, minor league players don't have money. Not yet, not most of them. And the truth is, most will never spend even 1 day in the show. It's that hard, but over the last hundred or so years, that hasn't once stopped thousands of young men from suiting up every spring. They'll put on a uniform in a town and a stadium far removed from what most think of as "professional baseball." They'll steal the night, riding in a cramped bus with 30 other dudes on an 8-hour trip that left the visiting locker room shortly before 11P.M. The point is, get on board with a player. Get on board with a minor leaguer who has hopes and dreams of three-tiered stadiums and someone else carrying his luggage, and [gasp] AIR TRAVEL!
As for how to best "track" your guy, I suggest using the World Wide Web. Super easy stuff these days, friends. If you're feeling bigtime, all the AAA and AA games are available live, on the web, via MiLB.tv's subscription service. I think it was about $40 last season and ooowheee, it's a lot of baseball every night. In addition, more and more single-A teams are adding MiLB.tv coverage every year, including your very own Myrtle Beach Pelicans, whose every home game is available [-ahem- GALLO!]. If your player is anywhere from low-A to AAA, I suggest adding the affiliates' home page to your browser's memory. Every morning you'll see game wraps from the night before and even some video clips. Obviously, I'm a fan of Twitter and I follow all the teams on there as well. See? No sweat.
Every year, I watch minor league baseball and every year, these dudes teach me something. Every year a few of them pleasantly surprise me. Every year a few of them disappoint me. I've kept tabs on lots of kids in my time and never once has it been boring. Seriously, you should try it. Pick a kid, any one of 'em, find one you connect with for whatever reason, then come along for the ride.
As always, enjoy baseball! Love Ya!