Play Ball! Enjoying the Summer Leagues
It's summer time and, for me, that means one very important thing: baseball. I have been a fan for a long time and I don't care how much you want me to believe that the sport is dying and that it's boring and blah, blah, blah. Go watch your hockey, soccer and La Crosse all you want. I will be watching, listening to or following along with a baseball game, good sir.
I stepped away a little bit in recent years. Since I got married it just felt like there were other things that needed to be done. I can't really say why. My wife is not an avid fan, but she doesn't hate it. Heck, her grandmother, growing up near Pittsburgh, was a fan of the Pirates, Penguins and Steelers, so it's not like she didn't grow up around it. It just happened.
This year, though, for a variety of reasons, I have become an active fan again. Following my teams - and now discovering something entirely new and so much fun.
When it comes to the big leagues, I have been a Chicago White Sox fan since I was young. I grew up in the north side of town and surrounded by Cubs fans, but changed allegiance thanks to one uncle and my innate desire to zig when so many others zag. I have made a New Season Resolution to stay a fan even as the team has struggled and gone from having the 2nd best record in the game and a dominant 1st place position to plummeting to the bottom.
Then came something else that surprised me: the DuPage Drones and the discovery of summer collegiate leagues.
Well, I have been a fan of minor league baseball for a long time. I love the way the players play for the love of the game, make hardly any money, the fact the games are cheaper and easier to get to for fans, and just the entire atmosphere. I have my minor league teams I follow and right now the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, the Charlotte Knights, are in 1st place and it's been fun watching them, but then I discovered summer collegiate leagues.
It came with my wife discovering that a new team, The DuPage Drones, would be starting their season this year. They would be playing in Lisle, a place pretty much a stone's throw from my house. Closer than the minor league Kane County Cougars. Woohoo! Baseball in my backyard!
They play in the Prospect League which is one of several wooden bat summer collegiate leagues. This means the players all each have at least one more year of college left to go. They are usually Juniors and Seniors and have NCAA status as college athletes. That also means these leagues are, technically, amateur or semi-pro because none of them can get paid. If they did, they'd lose their NCAA status and be considered "pros" and wouldn't be able to play on their college teams anymore.
The thing is, these kids are found by coaches and scouts and they are all the ones that they feel have talent and could use some time developing that talent by playing all summer long. So, these kids play hard and you see actual scouts with clipboards in the stands with you watching them play. When the MLB College Draft comes around - collegiate league players get snapped up. It also means each year is different, players change frequently, and you may never know how good or bad your team is going to be from season to season.
Stadiums are small. Things are done on a shoestring, you can almost sit on the field and ticket prices are less than a movie these days. Oh, and every team is extremely family friendly and kid-friendly!
It's awesome. I am in love. This is really the essence of the game - so salaries to worry about. These are very literally young MLB stars of the future playing hard just because they love this game. It is so amazingly cool.
So, I have gone to a few Drones games. I have a Drones hat. If you live in the Western suburbs of Chicago - you need to take the family and help make this team a success. I really hope they can stick around a few years. The team is at about .500 right now and you can also follow the games via their Twitter feed and via a game-tracker site called Pointstreak.
I got interested in collegiate leagues and discovered a team called the Butler BlueSox. As a Sox fan, anything with S-O-X in their name grabs me. They play in the Prospect League, as well, in a town called Butler, PA. Their motto is "Our Town, Our Team" and they have their own stadium. I love this team. Next to the Drones, they are my favorite. They even have a guy who calls the games, online, when they are at home.
Finally, Rockford, IL, is close to Chicago and they have had minor league teams for years. Last year, their minor league team, The Aviators, folded and now they have a Northwoods League team - The Rockford Rivets. They have the old minor league team's stadium and, as I write this, are on a tear with a 7-game winning streak. The only thing I can tell, from following along with them, is that they still don't get enough attention from Rockford residents.
Rockford people! Go support the Rivets. They are a really good team and a lot of fun.
The great thing is, these days, you can follow them even from great distances. Not all of them can afford broadcasters. The Drones do not have anyone webcasting (hey, I'm available!), but thanks to Twitter, their Facebook pages and Pointstreak, you can follow their games. Plus, when they are in town you can go for under $10 and get a hot dog, beer or soda, and a hot pretzel for almost nothing.
Tired of the major leagues, the egos, the crowds? Check out the collegiate summer leagues. There's probably a team right nearby, baseball fans. I promise you'll have a blast.