Minor League Baseball Is in Crisis
In response to an SI survey on the effects of the pandemic, minor league teams made one thing clear: An American institution will never be the same.
May 19, 2020
. . . Following professional baseball’s shutdown in March, minor league clubs now exist in a sort of sports purgatory, 160 affiliates unsure whether they will have games to host and worried about how they will pay employees, settle debts, and potentially return millions of dollars in ticket and advertising revenue to fans and sponsors. Not to mention the existential anxiety they’ve felt since early last winter, when Major League Baseball proposed a plan that would reportedly eliminate 42 affiliates and give big league clubs greater control over the system.
And in the era of COVID-19, everyone is hurting. Local businesses failing, or even cutting their advertising budgets, is a looming disaster for clubs. “Of course I’m worried about our team, but I’m worried about our businesses and all the people in our community who are being affected by this,” says Marcus Sabata, the general manager for the Double A Jackson (Tenn.) Generals. “We’re a small business, too, so we get it. We’re right there with them.”
On a Friday evening in early May, the scene at the Colorado Springs stadium of the Rocky Mountain Vibes was decidedly different. Jennifer Cupples; her husband, Ken; and their two children pulled up curbside to pick up a food order. The family had been player hosts last year for the Vibes, the Brewers’ short-season rookie league team that is reportedly on the list of teams slated for contraction. Every year thousands of families nationwide house young ballplayers, often from other countries, baseball’s own form of cultural exchange. As Toasty—the Vibes’ anthropomorphic flaming s’more mascot—stood near the Cupples’ Toyota SUV, a Vibes employee handed Jennifer her $35 “Quarantined Couple” meal, which included chicken bacon ranch and pulled pork sandwiches, fries, cookies, a bottle of wine and two rolls of toilet paper. The Cupples hoped this wasn’t their last visit to the ballpark.
“This place has become part of our family,” Jennifer says.
Toasty’s Takeout, as it is called, is the brainchild of Vibes general manager Chris Phillips, an 18-year veteran of minor league front offices. The curbside food business runs three evenings per week at the stadium, and a good night might earn $600—“Hardly a get-rich-quick scheme,” Phillips says—but it’s enough to keep some of the staff employed through the pandemic. “We can either sit around and feel bad about this situation, or we can have some fun,” Phillips says. “We’re going to focus on 2020, hope for the best and then deal with what happens after that.”
Outside the stadium, Jennifer and Ken Cupples unboxed their meals while their six-year-old daughter, Hope, threw a baseball in the air. Several friends arrived a while later—families who’d also hosted Vibes players last season. The husbands and wives set up chairs or stood several feet apart from one another, talking about the pandemic, the potentially lost season, and whether minor league baseball would exist in Colorado Springs come next year.
They laughed about player sleepovers at their homes, about the Dominican kids who’d never tasted a s’more before arriving in the Springs, about birthday parties and the time they drove five hours to Grand Junction, Colo., where they surprised their players and waved at them from the stands. They talked about their final Sunday with the players last season, how they cried all the way home from the airport, how each of the young men had stayed in touch during the pandemic.
The group got quiet as their food began to arrive. Toasty, the s’more, stood off to one side, hanging on to the sides of his cloth graham crackers. “Those boys were just like our kids,” one of the women finally said. The group nodded. “Baseball is special to all of us. I just hope this isn’t the end.”
So US minor league baseball is an international concern and a cultural exchange - such as teaching people about s'mores!
Seek peace but keep your gun handy.
I'm not a complete idiot, some parts are missing!
“Illegitemus non carborundum est (“Don’t let the bastards grind you down”).”
― Julia Child