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Ten times the Minors guested on television

Farm systems have played big, crucial, funny roles over the years
Since wearing an Isotopes hat in a 2009 episode, Bryan Cranston and the cast of "Breaking Bad" have maintained a strong bond with the Albuquerque franchise.
April 15, 2020

In the coming weeks, MiLB.com will share a selection of motion pictures, television shows, documentaries and books that spotlight the quintessential qualities of Minor League Baseball. Last week, we went to the movies and you reminded us of some that didn't make the cut. Now up to bat -- TV.The

In the coming weeks, MiLB.com will share a selection of motion pictures, television shows, documentaries and books that spotlight the quintessential qualities of Minor League Baseball. Last week, we went to the movies and you reminded us of some that didn't make the cut. Now up to bat -- TV.
The way audiences consume television has completely shifted in the current age, with weekly appointment viewing on the couch largely giving way to marathon binging from just about any location. Minor League Baseball has been a constant through it all.

In the second installment reviewing MiLB's presence in pop culture, appearances on the not-so-big screen vary from entire series to one-off episodes to subtle cameos. Here are 10 examples in chronological order of their original air date, with plenty more out there sure to stir up conversation on social media.

MASH


Throughout the wildly popular series, Max Klinger, played by Toledo native Jamie Farr, rocked a Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens jersey and cap. Producer Larry Gelbart reportedly created Klinger as a sort of payback to comedian Danny Thomas, also a Toledo native, for buying jokes from Gelbart early in his career. But Farr's fandom for the team and town made it a natural inclusion when crafting the character.
For a glimpse at how far Klinger's devotion stretched, consider a conversation in Season 5, Episode 20, entitled "Hepatitis" and originally aired on Feb. 8, 1977. Klinger's in a bad mood because he was assigned kitchen duty for 30 days after fighting with Sgt. Zale. Why? "He insulted the Toledo Mud Hens!"
Over the years, Farr has been the Mud Hens' most famous fan. He was the face of an ad campaign to generate support for the construction of Fifth Third Field and has thrown out ceremonial first pitches there. His likeness has been the inspiration behind several bobblehead giveaways. Klinger even was inducted into the team's Celebrity Hall of Fame in 2017. During his speech that day, Farr returned one of the two original Mud Hens jerseys the team sent him to wear on the show; the other was donated to the Smithsonian Institute after "MASH" ended.

The Mud Hens mascots greet Mike Farrell and Jamie Farr of M*A*S*H fame at the 2006 Triple-A All-Star Game in Toledo. Joy R Absalon/MiLB.com

Bay City Blues


Only eight episodes of NBC's 1983 drama were made. It was canceled after half of them aired. It followed the same model of producer Steven Bochco's legendary other program, "Hill Street Blues," with an extensive cast, multiple plots and drama of the personal and professional kind. But, as Bochco told The New York Times after the show failed, the difference between that of a police department and baseball team was significant.
''I think episodic television is adrenaline addictive,'' Bochco told the Times. ''Virtually all the hour dramas I can think of have action, shooting or people actively engaged in destroying lives and destroying each other. That is a tough thing to get away from.''
Bochco tried to recreate the same intensity in Bay City with a drunk pitcher, cheating wives and meddling ownership all playing a part in the pilot episode. Perhaps the short-lived tenure of the rest of the show speaks to the challenge of making it in the Minor Leagues. The talent pool is vast -- a 40-round draft, 160 teams and even more players manning complex squads. Not everyone comes out a big leaguer, but there's still value in the journey.

Highway to Heaven -- "Popcorn, Peanuts and CrackerJacks"


Probationary angel Jonathan and his partner, Mark, are sent by The Boss -- known in some circles as God -- to help the struggling Tucson Toros of the Pacific Coast League win some games in the second-season episode that originally aired on Nov. 13, 1985. Jonathan poses as a reporter, his first story revealing to the public that the team's owner let go of longtime souvenir salesman Ted Tilley, an old Negro League legend. After the story attracts a negative response, Jonathan suggests putting Tilley on the team so he can earn a pension.
Tilley has one message for his much younger, inexperienced teammates -- have fun. That motto will never expire in the Minors.

Quantum Leap -- "Play Ball"


Dr. Sam Beckett is stuck in other people's pasts, trying to right their wrongs and change history in hope of getting back to his own life in the present. In the fourth-season episode that aired Sept. 25, 1991, he leaps into 1961 as a Minor League pitcher named Doc Fuller whose career in The Show fell apart after he struck and killed a batter with a pitch to the head. Doc's goal is to get back to the Majors, thus avoiding his true fate of drinking himself to death. But he wants to steer his teammate, Chucky Myerwitz, off a troubled path as well.
Doc brings a sense of redemption to the Galveston Mustangs, one that is intrinsic of life in the Minors. Struck out? You'll bat again in a few innings. Lose the game? There's another one tomorrow. Someone else earn the promotion you wanted? Be ready for the next spot that opens up.
Speaking of jumping around, Sam also embodied a Minor Leaguer in the second episode of the series. In "Genesis: Part 2" on Sept. 13, 1956, he played Tim Fox -- a prospect who needed to score the winning run in a 1968 ballgame in order to leap into his next assignment. The show clearly knew what we always guessed, baseball can mean everything on a specific date.

The Simpsons -- "Hungry, Hungry Homer"


Lenny wants a refund for his Springfield Isotopes tickets because the team keeps losing. But H.K. Duff, the new owner of the local Minor League club, won't grant Lenny's request. Acting as a "friend of the downtrodden," Homer goes to the stadium to try to secure Lenny's refund. It's there that he accidentally finds a closet full of Albuquerque Isotopes merchandise, uncovering Duff's plan to move the team. Duff claims the plan isn't true, so Homer goes on a hunger strike to expose the lies and keep the team in Springfield.
Despite Homer's efforts during the 12th-season episode that originally aired on March 4, 2001, the Isotopes landed in Albuquerque two years later -- for real. The Calgary Cannons moved to New Mexico for the 2003 season, and the moniker inspired by "The Simpsons" dominated a fan vote to name the team. Now the Triple-A affiliate of the Rockies, the name has remained the same for the Isotopes. Statues of "The Simpsons" can be found throughout Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park.

Life -- "Farthingale"


A bizarre murder case has Los Angeles detectives Charlie Crews and Dani Reese stumped. The victim led two fake lives with two different wives, claiming to both women that a secret government job kept him away for long stretches at a time. The truth only comes out when a display of five Minor League hats -- all from California League teams -- leads to a breakthrough discovery.
Without giving up too much more of the plot, it's clear from the Cal League clues that aired on Nov. 14, 2007 during the show's inaugural season that each of the teams -- parlayed into stops on one of our dream road trips -- were and are iconic parts of their respective communities.

Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul


Before "Breaking Bad" prequel "Better Call Saul" was one of the more popular shows airing on TV today, it was the title of a second-season "Breaking Bad" episode first aired on April 26, 2009 in which Walter White and Saul Goodman meet for the first time. Walter, pretending to be the uncle of a colleague represented by Saul, enters the latter's law office wearing sunglasses over his eyeglasses and a tan Albuquerque Isotopes hat. In 2018, an Isotopes logo hangs from the rearview mirror of a taxi Saul rides in during "Smoke," the Season 4 opener of "Better Call Saul."
What might have otherwise been a trivial detail of a bad disguise has become a strong bond between the Isotopes and the two series, both of which are set in Albuquerque. Walter White's portrayer, Bryan Cranston, has made several appearances at Isotopes Park, including a Wounded Warriors vs. "Breaking Bad" cast charity game in 2012. The Isotopes wore "Better Call Saul" jerseys for a game in 2016.

Bob's Burgers


Minor League ballparks have long been known as places where families get closer to the game at an affordable price point. That holds true for the Belchers in the Season 1 finale "Torpedo," which first aired on May 22, 2011, and finds the family attending Opening Day for the local Minor League team, the Wonderdogs, because Bob bought an ad on the outfield wall. But while it might have been a reluctant trip at first, the family keeps coming back for two reasons -- Bob's favorite player and role model Torpedo Jones pitches for the team, and Gene starts running in the mascot race while wearing a burger suit. Torpedo even starts frequenting the family's restaurant with some teammates because Bob gives him a burger before a game.
Things are going great until it's discovered Torpedo is only using the Belchers for their burger grease, his latest cheating mechanism in a career full of them. It becomes a teaching moment for Bob and an opportunity to pass what he's learned down to his kids.

Eastbound & Down


The third season of this HBO comedy, released in early 2012 and filmed around Myrtle Beach and specifically on the Pelicans' home turf of TicketReturn.com Field, finds Kenny Powers on the mound for the Myrtle Beach Mermen. While many of the characters in the show seem to be absurd, much of what they experience in Myrtle Beach is on par with the realities of the game in the Minor Leagues. Powers is tasked with mentoring a new prospect, fighting for his spot in the rotation and learning a new pitch. Those lessons are learned time and again down on the farm.

Brockmire


An on-air meltdown lost Jim Brockmire his job as one of the Major League's best play-by-play announcers, so he spends the first two seasons of this IFC comedy calling games in the Minor Leagues with a drink in hand. In Season 1, Brockmire latches on with the Morristown Frackers, and in the third episode "Kangaroo Court" -- first aired on April 12, 2017 -- he mediates a clubhouse trial gone wrong. It ends in this message: "When you care about one person, you start to care about who they care about," the title character says. "And on and on that goes until you look around one day you realize that there's a group of people that you'd actually fight for. That goes for everybody in this room. We are all part of a team."
Fans show up to Minor League parks to cheer on players, but broadcasters and other staff are part of the fabric of each organization. They might not break up fights the way Brockmire does here, but they are essential in their own ways and to be celebrated and enjoyed on television as well.

Joe Bloss is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.