The Kansas City Royals are a small-market team, but they have a big heart. And that’s good news for Blue Rocks fans.
Of course, there really is no news about the Blue Rocks, because, like everybody else in professional baseball, they aren’t playing. A lot of the Wilmington Riverfront is dark right now, including several restaurants and Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, the home of the Blue Rocks since their rebirth in 1993.
It’s sad that of all the major-league sports, baseball appears to be the last one ready to get back into action, even though Memorial Day is already behind us and everyone should be getting ready for the heart of the baseball season.
Sadly, millionaire players and billionaire owners can’t reach agreement to start up the already-delayed 2020 season and, not surprisingly, the hang-up is money – the players want to be paid more and the owners want to pay less.
Of course, big-league players and owners already have plenty of cash in the bank and they’ll be able to survive a baseball-less summer. And the ones who are really hurt by this are the little people, the vendors and ushers and security and sanitation workers. And there are also the minor-league players, the guys who haven’t reached millionaire status yet and are scraping by while they chase after their dreams.
And that brings us back to the Blue Rocks and the Royals, their parent organization. Already, many major-league teams have announced that they will cut thousands of minor-leaguers or stop paying them their meager salary soon. That includes super-rich teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But the Royals have stepped up to the plate, in more ways than one. They have a new owner, John Sherman, and a veteran general manager, Dayton Moore, and they recently announced that not only will they refrain from cutting anybody, they’ll also pay all of their minor-leaguers and support personnel throughout the entire season, even if there isn’t one.
Most minor-leaguers make a little more than $1,000 a month, which is less than what the Phillies’ Bryce Harper makes per at-bat. Yet, some billionaire owners balk about paying those low-incomer workers because profits will be down this season, assuming there is one.
Here’s what Moore recently said about the players on the lowest rungs of the baseball ladder:
“Understand this: The minor league players, the players you’ll never know about, the players that never get out of rookie ball or High-A, those players have as much impact on the growth of our game then 10-year or 15-year veteran players.
“They have as much opportunity to influence the growth of our game as those individuals who played for a long time because those individuals go back into their communities and teach the game, work in academies, are JUCO coaches, college coaches, scouts, coaches in pro baseball.
“They’re growing the game constantly because they’re so passionate about it. So, we felt it was really, really important not to release one minor league player during this time, a time we needed to stand behind them,” said Moore.
Amazing – a sports executive who is wise and kind.
Still, there are dire times for minor-league baseball. Big-league front offices are already eliminating some of their lower-class farm teams and that seems to be the trend now. Whether or not that eventually impacts the Blue Rocks remains to be seen – they’ve more successful than most at the box office, but they are just a Class A team.
But no matter what happens, we’re also luckier than most – if the Blue Rocks do close up shop at some point, we’d still be able to take a short drive up I-95 and watch the Phillies, although it will cost a lot more in ticket prices, parking and concessions.
The demise of minor-league baseball would have a bigger impact on baseball fans in small towns in the South and Midwest, where the closest major-league teams are hours away.
Those fans have developed a bond with their local teams, a bond that has lasted for generations and goes back to the time before you could watch a million games every night on cable or satellite TV. I’ve never been a huge fan of the movie Bull Durham, but that film does give you an idea of what it’s like to follow a minor-league team when you live in a minor-league town.
The Blue Rocks and their fans have a nice relationship, but it’s hardly fanatical. For one thing, it’s hard to identify with the players when they’re generally with the team for just one season and then either get promoted to Double-A ball or get a pink slip. Fortunately for the Blue Rocks, attendance at Frawley Stadium has never depended on the Carolina League standings. Fans like rooting for a winner, but when it comes to the Blue Rocks, that’s secondary to the atmosphere and affordability you get from a Blue Rocks game.
We’ve written this before, but there can be 3,500 fans in the stands for the start of a Blue Rocks game and 500 when the seventh inning finally rolls around. By that time the kids have already ransacked the concession stands and your wallet is empty, plus the kids are getting bored and antsy, and the grown-ups have to get up early for work the next morning, so we might as well leave now…
And it doesn’t matter if it’s a 2-1 game or a 21-20 game with first place on the line, it’s time to go.
That’s the beauty and the convenience of the minor-league life. It’s something Wilmington has gotten used to over the last 27 years, and now we don’t know how long much longer it will last.