How I made SportsCenter
Or why minor league baseball is the best thing ever
On June 28, 2013, I was on SportsCenter. Or rather, my feet were. My summer internship with the San Francisco Giants’ AA-affiliate and my home team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, landed me and my awesome pig-chasing shoes a spot on the program’s infamous Not Top 10.
The story goes like this: in the middle of the fifth inning of every home game, staff member Farmer Larry and intern extraordinaire Farmer Kerry — yours truly — took Parker, the miniature pot-bellied Rally Pig, onto the field in a cart. We ran from bullpen to bullpen, cheering and heel-clicking along the way. Sometimes Nutzy, our beloved mascot, would join us. It was a grand old time — that is, until something went terribly wrong.
On this fateful evening — a doubleheader against the Bowie BaySox — one unlucky player chose exactly the wrong moment to leave the third base dugout, tripped over Parker’s cart and unleashed the Rally Pig, who took about two seconds to contemplate his freedom and then ran for it. The crowd roared as two farmers, a squirrel mascot, a handful of staff members, the Squirrels’ catcher and the BaySox’s first baseman tried — and failed — to capture the swine. We finally herded Parker off the field, but the local news stations had their highlight and promptly sent it off to ESPN. The rest is history.
I fielded a lot of questions after the incident. Was the player injured? How did you get the pig out of there? Does he bite? (He does.) And more than anything else: why do the Flying Squirrels have a pig for a mascot?
Well, why not?
The great thing about minor league baseball is that, removed from the bright lights and high profile of the majors, things can get very, very silly, and Richmond is not even the weirdest of the bunch. The Lowell Spinners held a 50th anniversary celebration for Bubble Wrap and the Brooklyn Cyclones honored future mothers with “Bellies and Baseball: A Salute to Pregnancy Night,” promising free tickets for life to any mother who actually gave birth in the park. Earlier this summer the Florence Freedom hosted Lennay Kekua Bobblehead Night — they gave out empty boxes. Once, before he became the Squirrels’ current vice president, Altoona general manager Todd Parnell tried to send a fan home with his removed gallbladder. Now a rally pig doesn’t seem so strange, huh?
Of course, all promotions and theme nights aside, there is still a baseball game going on, and what a game it is! The minors are where established stars, climbing from the depths of injury, make rehab starts. Derek Jeter spent time with the Yankees’ AAA-affiliate this summer, and tickets cost all of $14.75. The minors are also home to most of baseball’s biggest prospects — Mike Trout had to start somewhere, you know.
So even though the guys out on the field aren’t in the big leagues just yet, you’re not exactly watching paint dry. In 2012, only three triple plays were completed in the majors, but I saw the AA Flying Squirrels end a game with one just two months ago. Of course, baseball is baseball and sometimes it’s really, truly bad, but that’s okay because you can always celebrate it when Awful Night rolls around!
If I’m starting to sound a little sentimental, it’s because I am. I grew up watching the AAA Richmond Braves, and I’ve had the immense privilege of working for the AA Flying Squirrels. I remain a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan, but anyone who’s seen Bull Durham knows what I know: minor league baseball is a beautiful thing. It offers all that is good about professional sports — elite athletes competing for our own pleasure — as well as what is good about college sports — the athletes themselves are not yet gods. And of course, it provides an immense entertainment value that we sports fans sometimes take for granted — let’s be honest, after rushing the court against Duke, the next best thing to happen at JPJ last year was totally the halftime Diaper Derby.
Sadly, the minors are winding down now. The playoffs will go largely unnoticed as their major league counterparts race for the postseason and college and professional football pick up steam. The fans of those minor league teams still in contention should consider themselves incredibly lucky. While the rest of us must wait another eight months, they will return to the ballpark. They’ll casually hand over a mere 10 bucks or so, and they’ll get more than their money’s worth. At any given game they could see some spectacular baseball or enjoy a hilarious promotion. They’ll watch next year’s major league stars stealing bases and racking up strikeouts in their hometown. Perhaps they might even witness an event so incredibly bizarre, something that couldn’t occur anywhere but a minor league stadium, and it just might make national television — trust me, it happens.