Spring Training 2010 at Pirates City minor league complex in Bradenton, Florida. It had recently been renovated, including all the comforts of a typical university campus. With dormitories, common areas, and services nearby, the prospects also eat, sleep, & live here. Training sessions resembled auditions, multiple stations and assignments, all of it being recorded on the numerous clipboards, stopwatches, and radars, lots of moving parts. They dared to chase a dream on the farm. The coaching staff really went out of the way to be cordial to the visitors. The family environment felt as if they we’re our kids out there. This is the “Pirates City” minor league complex that includes 80 dormitory rooms, offices, cafeteria, conference areas, storage space, locker rooms, and 5 baseball fields.
It was an accidental find. I set out to see the Boston Red Sox play the Pittsburgh Pirates at their home field in Bradenton (currently named LECOM park). Josh Beckett was pitching for the Red Sox. But, LECOM park is 3.5 miles east of “Pirate City. I used a “Tom Tom GPS” and it somehow brought me here instead. Don’t judge, we weren’t attached to our smartphones yet and I probably still had a flip phone. Room 231, in the dormitories, is dedicated to Roberto Clemente where he stayed every spring; not sure what the layout was like back then. But, the thought that these are Roberto Clemente’s old stomping grounds was worth the trip. The 2012 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, lived in Bradenton. For him, it was probably a longer trip to the mall than reporting to Spring Training.
This week, MLB has also been about scrimmage games. The games are not new. But, they normally transition to another level of training. In this case, scrimmage games are being maximized for their worth. Playing 6-7 innings with little regard for the score. Teams implement the various situations; like shifting the infielders or starting the inning with a man on second. So, what will baseball look like in 2020? It’s as clear as mud. Its 30 teams of 60 players treading water in a proverbial salmon run.
The 2020 season starts Thursday July 23rd with Washington vs. New York Yankees at 7:08PM ET. Fans want the game back. But, that wish comes with some concerns; including changes in the game. Things different about the game will be no fans, social distancing protocols, and new game rules. The biggest change will be the void or absence of the player development pipeline that is the minor leagues. That alone will have long term affects. Before the pandemic, MLB offered a proposal to MiLB, regarding the player development, that would eliminate 42 teams from the minor league systems, among other cutbacks. The pandemic accelerated the direction MLB was already going in. Stay tuned for the players in those extra reserve teams. You may find a few sneaky MVP-walk off-pick to click-game changers-that find the feeding. For them, its show time.