There has probably never been a larger divide than there is currently between small town America and the large urban areas that sprawl outward from city centers like New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It’s hard to even turn around without being reminded of these stark differences everyday on TV, in the newspaper, and scrolling through news feeds on our phones. The cultural and economic divide between small town America and the giant urban areas that exist in this country can be seen in countless aspects of everyday American life, but is perhaps most keenly visible in professional sports.
This past year, it was reported that Major League Baseball had been working diligently on a plan that would further propagate the idea of a divided America as it pertains to the theory that larger, more viable urban areas of the United States have more to add to our culture and economic value than smaller, rural towns and cities do. This plan consists of eliminating forty-two of Major League Baseball’s affiliated franchises throughout baseball’s minor league system. Most of these forty-two minor league teams would be rebranded as either college wooden bat leagues, make up part of a proposed “dream league,” become independent teams, or in the most extreme circumstance, some thirteen franchises would be eliminated altogether. This plan, if it were to go into effect, would eliminate baseball’s minor league system as we all know it, while at the same time dramatically altering the economies and cultural well being of each and every town currently housing one of these franchises. Baseball is incredibly important and indeed means a great deal to these cities in small town America, but that is not the whole story by any means.
There is a belief among those of us who live in small town America that what is provided to Major League Baseball in these more rural and smaller urban places is just as important as what is provided by major League Baseball in these rural and smaller urban places. The reality, as seen by most people outside of MLB’s New York City Offices, is that small town America matters. It is the place where the American dream is recognizable. It is the place where sports matter so much, as a high school basketball or football team, a volleyball squad, or Junior hockey team can be an identity for those towns and cities that dot the entire US map. It is a place that thrives on the pride garnered by those athletic teams the locals support so vehemently. Small town America is also the place where young men from all over the world are supported and cared for as they learn to ply a specific trade professionally for the first time. Their skills are honed in a cultural institution that so many in small town America have supported and enjoyed for well over a century.
Every spring, these young men show up to play ball in small town America. They do so in an open air building on the best maintained patch of grass in town. They play on a field that is surrounded by a small horseshoe grandstand where the locals cheer on “the boys.” The stadium is a place revered by those who live in these towns and cities. It is a place they are all proud of. It is their offering to these young men who come from so many other places. The local baseball stadium is a place where the citizens give their time, money, energy, and passion year round so that when these young men show up in the spring, they will have a place to call home until it is time for them to move on. Small town America is where professional baseball begins.
This baseball season, My wife and I will spend time traveling to small town America. We will visit these smaller places that often get overlooked by travelers on their way to other, larger places. Our specific destinations will be the minor league cities and towns that have currently been deemed inadequate by Major League Baseball. Our intent is not to “save” minor league baseball necessarily, as only Rob Manfred and those negotiating a new agreement possess that power. Rather, our goal is to showcase all that small town America has to offer the entire country, including Major League Baseball and the young players who spend their summers in these communities. By working towards this goal, we hope that Major League Baseball will further understand and appreciate all that small town America and the entire minor league system has provided them for well over a century, and continues to provide them today.
Please come with us this summer as we plan to showcase as many of the amazing things that are happening in small town America as we can. Our travels this season will highlight baseball teams in smaller places, while at the same time shedding light on the important role smaller towns and cities play in our country’s continued economic and cultural growth overall. We will spend time at the ballpark, but we will also spend time at the restaurants, museums, cultural centers, and the various other attractions that each of these towns and cities provide. Places like New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles are wonderful and exciting and have so much to offer, but small town America has a great deal to offer as well, and it is just waiting to be explored… or perhaps, just simply appreciated.