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Contrary to a football obsessed popular opinion, baseball is still America’s national pastime. Having a catch with the old man or “root,root,root”-ing for the home team still has the same appeal it did in 1869, and the influx of foreign athletes has made baseball the true hallmark of the Great American Melting Pot. Some of us aren’t able to afford constant trips to big league games, and college ball only lasts so long. Still, there is a monument for the common man that fulfills the summer sports fix for both diehard and casual fans alike. Its stadiums dot our country’s landscape from Gwinnett to Tacoma, with zany mascots like the River Dogs or the Isotopes. They’re places you can pop in for dollar beers and bobble heads while taking in local culture under the backdrop of a common interest. Minor League baseball — for all its costly errors and ghastly ERA’s — is a true testament to the beauty of our national sports and one of the greatest bastions of Americana.
The minors don’t have the glitz and glamour of a night game at Yankee Stadium or a pennant race in San Francisco. They’re the place where greatness grows. 19-year-olds that still can’t grow their first beards are pitted against 35 year-old-men that are hungry for one last taste of glory and paycheck. Some guys become local heroes, whether they just hit the Bull and won a steak or went on to win all the rings in the bigs. Joe DiMaggio compiled a 61 game hit streak for the San Francisco Seals before he became a national sports hero — something that folks by the Bay still won’t shut up about. That sense of small potatoes pride has bred countless baseball fans. People fall in love with seeing fellow young hopefuls beat the throw at home plate or strike out another team’s stud. “If they can make their dreams come true, why can’t I?” It’s sports integral purpose: competitive fires portrayed to inspire. Maybe we can’t be Joltin’ Joe, but why the hell can’t we get that promotion or hit on the chick that’s out of our league?
Though the legends of ages past keep people coming back, it’s the laid back atmosphere that brings in new blood. There are eighteen starters fighting for their futures only a few yards away, but my attention is primarily on that cute local and the cheap local beer until someone hits a dinger. It’s a better bar scene. Everyone has common ground in their love of the game, but you won’t drop $15 on a cheap domestic and a hot dog. Instead, you can treat yourself to disgustingly delicious park fare such as a bacon mac and cheese burger without breaking the bank. Add to that various Thirsty Thursday deals, absolutely insane promotions (Office Space night? Hell yeah, Dunedin), and the promise of at least decent competition and you’re looking at the best 20 bucks you’ll spend all week. Once the game’s over and your buzz is ready, hit the town with your new acquaintances. Maybe you’ll end up being lifelong friends or maybe they’ll just buy a couple rounds. Either way, I call it a win-win.
People can dismiss the minors as watered down baseball that’s plagued by gimmicky owners. That’s a matter of perspective. Sure, infielders might miss some grounders and not every guy in center can make the throw home. But you can bet your ass they’ll attack the ball and challenge their bodies to get better every damn day. Some will end up having their dreams come true at the next level. Some will wallow in obscurity or just decide to step away. Still, as they travel the highways and back streets of America, they’ll all share the same feeling of pride whenever they see a stadium raising its lights in reverence to the beauty of baseball. Just as they inspire fans, the game inspires the athletes. That’s the America I love. It’s an America full of hope, dedication, and community. With the right work ethic and enough support, we can accomplish anything. Let the folks who can spontaneously fly in for box seats at Globe Life do it, and congratulations to them. For now, I’ll keep toiling in the minors until I get a call up of my own..
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