Why minor league baseball plays a major role in the U.S.

CNN
Saturday, July 5, 2014 - 7:00pm

Far from the bright lights and big salaries on big league diamonds, minor league teams play a major role in their communities during the summer months.

On a Friday night, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs share the field with local boy scouts, and the spotlight with a mascot named pinch.

It’s a scene that plays out in the hundreds of minor league ballparks across the country.

"Family" is the heart of the appeal, and the business strategy.

“I like to think in this business that baseball has been secondary and the entertainment, the family experience, being the top priority,” Patrick Day, the General Manager of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs told CNN.

More than fifty miles from Baltimore's Orioles, about 30 from Washington's Nationals, $8 buys a spot on the lawn, $13 gets a seat in the stands.

At least 48 million fans came through minor league turnstiles last year, 2.2 million for the Independent Atlantic League where the Blue Crabs play, unaffiliated with a major league club.

“The majority played in Triple-A baseball which is a very high level or in the big leagues, more than half of them played in the big leagues at one time. They get it, and they do enjoy it,” Day explained.

First-year manager Lance Burkhart gets the sport's family-friendly appeal: “My older brother Morgan played for the Red Sox and a little bit for Kansas City, and my younger brother Damon played a little bit for the Frontier League for a few years too. So it's in the blood I guess,” Burkhart said.

His job, create a family of sorts in the clubhouse.

An anchor of that family is 37-year-old Jeremy Owens; he's spent 17 seasons in the minor leagues. This season he's transitioning, less player, more coach, the same love of the game.

“I love putting the uniform on and getting out there. I still take batting practice the guys still. It's hard to lay the bat down,” Owens said.

On this particular night, the home team heads to a 9-5 loss.

Most fans, don't seem to mind.

There are diehard fans that are here for every single game.//By the end of the summer, everybody becomes one big family,” General Manager Patrick Day said.

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