600 plus days. That’s how long it’s been since Minor League Baseball officially happened. Six hundred days without baseball in the smallparks all across America. But now, finally, it’s back. Minor League baseball returns in all its glory early next week and with it, the hopes and dreams of players and fans alike. Is that 1st Rounder gonna turn out to be an everyday player? Is that kid destined to be a reliever? Can that guy turn his physical tools into baseball skills? Does my kid really need more Dippin’ Dots? These are the questions we get to ask again, starting next week. But first, let’s catch up a bit.
It’s not an exaggeration to say Minor League Baseball is returning to a completely different landscape. Obviously, the world has changed since September of 2019, and with that the behaviors of all of us. The pleasures of minor league ball: the closeness to the field, the intimacy of the parks, and the interactions between fans and those in uniform will be different in 2021. I’d expect autographs and photos with players, a ubiquitous sight at minor league parks, to be kept to a bare minimum this season. And that’s just fine. Good news- there will still be ice cream! There will still be hot dogs. And there will still be players trying to make their ultimate dream come true. Schedules will be a bit different in 2021 as well. Teams will play all 6-game series’ beginning Tuesday and ending Sunday. Mondays will be off days. In many cases, a team will be home for two 6-game series’ before hitting the road for two 6-game series’. As of this writing, the Rangers affiliates have indicated they’ll be following CDC guidelines and encouraging mask wearing for the unvaccinated at the park. They’ll be opening at around 50% capacity, at least for the month of May, but all expect that percentage to increase as the summer gets fully heated up. There’s gonna be plenty of seats available and plenty of young players who could use some cheering on.
All that brings me to my second point about the 2021 season. If you love baseball, and specifically, Minor League Baseball: pay up. Seriously. Buy tickets, even if you don’t go. Buy some new T-shirts, or a cool hat from your favorite Rangers affiliate. No one really wants to say it out loud, but I will- MiLB clubs could use the dough. They had 600+ days with no revenue. Thanks to some PPP loans and the occasional park rental fee, most clubs were able to retain a very small handful of employees, otherwise, everyone was let go or furloughed. There was no revenue for nearly 2 years. The 2020 season was a complete cancellation, in case you’d forgotten, and the economic hole the pandemic put most clubs in will require several year’s worth of recovery. Basically, a lot of clubs had already sold advertisements and sponsorships, as well as tickets, for the 2020 season. In many instances all 3 of those rolled over into 2021. So they’ll have bodies in the seats whose money they received (and spent) more than a year ago. That’s why they need new tickets sold. And new merch sold. That new revenue can help cover the operating costs for the 2021 season- which will begin at reduced stadium capacity. All sounds like a knife’s-edge P&L statement to me. But, like all of us, they’ll make it. MiLB clubs have long held a firm grip on creativeness and resiliency, and though they’ve been tested like never before, they’ll make it through. I’ve spoken with quite a few officials and employees at MiLB clubs across the country over the last couple weeks and they’re more excited than ever to welcome fans and to get baseball going again. All they need is you.
As for the Rangers farm, there’s been some shakeups there as well. As many of you know, the High-A and Low-A clubs switched places. Down East (Kinston, NC) is now the Low-A club that will feature kids getting their first taste of day-in-day-out, full-season baseball. The Wood Ducks have cool logos, cool swag and a cool (old!) park. You can buy their cool stuff here: https://woodducks.milbstore.com/ (Yeah, I know they’re owned by the Rangers, but they still need to pay their staff and operating costs.) Hickory (Hickory, NC) for many years the first stop on a Rangers prospect’s journey, is now the High-A affiliate. Get your Crawdads gear here: https://crawdads.milbstore.com/
Frisco remains the AA juggernaut and the place you can find me most nights. They’ve got a salty pitching roster to begin the season, so look for arms who can hopefully help the big league club climb out of its gully someday. You can buy tickets and RoughRiders apparel here: https://roughriders.milbstore.com/ Side note: they also got absolutely hammered by the winter storm in February- so uhhh, yeah buy something and I can’t wait to see you at the park. The AAA club is happily back in Texas for 2021 with Round Rock once again becoming the Rangers’ new (old) last-stop squad. One of the best run clubs in all of MiLB being affiliated with the Rangers again is a very good thing. Plenty of guys will be hoping to make the drive up 35 which will take them anywhere between 3.5 and 6 hours on any given day. Buy Express mojo here: https://express.milbstore.com/
So if it feels like I’m a sappy shill for MiLB- you’re absolutely correct. Over the last year, MLB also took over the full operations of MiLB. It’s the opinion of this writer that MLB is not particularly interested and/or invested in the operations or well-being of MiLB. It serves as a means to an end for them and they seem completely comfortable taking MiLB apart before (hopefully) rebuilding it in some shape and form. Change is good and the game is evolving quickly, but in addition to the pandemic, the transition to MLB operations made life even more challenging for many of the fine folks who love and work in Minor League Baseball. More changes seem imminent over the next decade or so, but in the meantime, we can show people what MiLB means to its fans and communities. It’s a fun, affordable way to watch baseball. A pro sports unit that prioritizes good times and the fan experience. And it’s a really fine way to spend your time and money.
I’ll be back next week with a much more nuanced, player-specific Rangers farm preview, including a couple unsung fellas at each level that I hope have a big 2021. This piece is just a primer. Just a chance to remind folks that Minor League Baseball is back. Make your plans now, and I’ll see you at the park.
As always, enjoy baseball.