It's pretty obvious that we're not going to see minor league teams playing in empty stadiums with no fans, there's just not a market or demand for that. Minor League ball will return when people can safely crowd into ballparks to support it and not a second before. This brings up questions about both short term player development and the long term survival of many of these teams.
I wrote a few days ago about my concerns over what would happen to the development of prospects if there is nothing done for them during the prolonged absence of the normal developmental channels. The Mets have been under financial pressure since the unraveling of Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme, and I assume that's not going to be helped by the lack of revenue this year. If the team doesn't get sold I find it difficult to believe that they will do what needs to be done to prepare for baseball in 2021 and beyond.
Even looking past my worries about the team I love, I feel a great deal of sadness when contemplating the future of minor leagues in general. I have really good memories of attending New Haven Ravens games back in the '90s with my friends. They played at Yale Field. It lacked the amenities of newer parks but it had a classic old-timey look that was a wonderful backdrop for baseball. It made for a perfect and affordable way to enjoy a summer evening. In a lot of ways minor league ball was more of a true American game than the ridiculously overpriced version at the major league level.
Sadly, the mayor of New Haven at the time was decidedly not a big supporter of sports in the town and did nothing to support the club. After a few years the team left New Haven and that was that. It left a huge void. To this day I have a couple of ratty old Ravens t-shirts that I still treasure.
Still, there were plenty of other entertainment choices in Connecticut. The damage that will be done by this pandemic will inevitably sink some clubs in places where minor league ball was the biggest thing in town. Before Coronavirus ever cast a shadow on life, Major League Basebal was already looking to save some money by shrinking the number of affiliates. If anything this will accelerate this process.
As a Mets fan my primary way of looking at the minors is as the source of a handful of homegrown players that sustain the big club. This pipeline is vital for a team to compete these days, no doubt, but I realize that I often overlook how much these teams mean to the cities and towns that host them. The vast majority of the players they root for will never play a game in the majors, but that matters little to those fans.
I wonder if baseball isn't being a little shortsighted in their haste to abandon some of those places. I know that the pressure to cut some costs will be greater the longer this shutdown goes on. Still, with baseball already losing ground in popularity among new generations of Americans, removing affordable options for kids to watch a ballgame with their parents just seems like the wrong play.
Stay well. See you tomorrow.
Note: I originally came across the link to the Baseball America piece thanks to a link in Craig Calcaterra's article on NBC Sports' Hardball Talk site