With a competitive World Series underway between two teams not named the Yankees or Dodgers, and their fans and the country loving every minute, it’s easy to remember when baseball truly was America’s pastime. But turn the television to a Major League Baseball game at just about any other point in the season and you’re likely to see apathy displayed in large blocks of empty seats.
Attendance has been steadily declining at Major League games for a decade and dropped by another million across the league from 2018 to 2019. Meanwhile, attendance at Minor League Baseball games increased by more than 1 million over the same two seasons.
That is one of the many reasons it seems so shortsighted of Major League Baseball to want to shrink the minors. But that’s exactly what big league officials have proposed doing, as Sports Editor Sam Bundy reported last week. Among the clubs on the chopping block are the 10 that make up the rookie-level Appalachian League, including the Greeneville Reds.
As Bundy reported, the two leagues are negotiating a new working agreement to take effect after the current one expires at the conclusion of the 2020 season. In that new agreement, officials with Major League Baseball want more control over how the minor leagues operate, including team affiliations, and want more money put into minor league stadiums and player salaries. To help achieve those goals, the big league officials apparently believe they need to lop off a quarter of the existing Minor League Baseball franchises and want to reduce the number of clubs from 160 to 120.
Now, some minor league teams undoubtedly are playing in ballparks that need updating, if not replacing. That’s not the case here, though, with the Reds’ home field at Pioneer Park or in other nearby Appalachian League towns where stadiums have undergone multi-million-dollar upgrades. And what you get at those venues is a far more affordable professional baseball experience than at Major League parks.
No, you’re not watching big-leaguers play, but you might be seeing future big-leaguers, maybe even future all-stars such as José Altuve, who played in Greeneville when it was home to a Houston Astros farm team and is in the thick of his second World Series with the club.
And the young fans at those games might become interested in following their favorite players’ careers – and the sport in general – to the Major League level, where they could fill some of those empty seats.