Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Florida State League: Where Nobody Shows Up And Dreams Come True

As a former employee of a minor league team, I am a huge proponent of minor league baseball. It's cheap, it's fun, and you get to be outside in (usually) nice weather. That's a pretty good combination. These minor league games don't have the crowds you would see in the majors, but most places still average a few thousand a game. Weirdly, most places does not include the Florida State League.

Going to games in the Florida State League is like entering into a weird alternative universe where baseball is as popular as darts. It is a ghost town at these games, as they are attended sparingly, and not much goes on besides baseball. It's probably an old sportswriter's wet dream as it is baseball without any sort of flash or showmanship, just plain ol' baseball.

Now don't get me wrong. Baseball is fine. But it can be a little slow, and it could use a little something extra to fill in the gaps. So why doesn't Florida support minor league baseball? I mean, it's full of old people, and old people love baseball. But these Floridians are spoiled, as they only like to go to Spring Training games where they can see fancy major league baseball players instead of the gritty, young hustlers working their way up the ladder.

So nobody shows up. I mean, not nobody, but probably around 100 people. And these people are missing out, because it's kind of amazing. It's this wonderful ghost town where, even though it is not major leaguers, great baseball is played. And considering the home team always throws the ball in the stands, every kid gets to go home with a baseball that was given to someone who they think is larger than life. And yeah, maybe that guy will never see Double-A, but there's also the chance that he's a future All-Star. Hell, a third of the kids get to go out to the field for some goofy minor league baseball contest.

You can hear and see everything. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I enjoyed it. A kid got six foul balls at a game. SIX. Another brought a glove, and had a player toss him a ball. One little girl got asked to race the mascot, and her Dad's reaction displayed joy that many have not felt since they were a child. It was amazing, because the little girl was unsure about doing it, but her Dad was so genuinely excited that she had to go for it.

When I started writing this piece, I titled it, "Minor League Baseball in Florida Gave Me a Preview of the Apocalypse." It wasn't catchy, but it seemed apt at the time. After I thought about it for a while, I realized that even though it wasn't well attended, there was still a lot of life at these games. From an outsider's perspective, it looks dead, but upon closer examination, it's actually kind of wonderful.

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