The question was simple. The answers were anything but.
After it was revealed two weeks ago that this would be the first year without Minor League Baseball since 1901, we took to Twitter to ask, “What does Minor League Baseball mean to you and your loved ones?” In hundreds of replies, you told us MiLB means an affordable family outing. It’s a hot dog and a beer after work. It’s a first date. It’s watching the stars of tomorrow ... today. It’s your first foul ball, your first autograph. It’s so much more than 280 characters, so we got some of you to expand upon your stories. Here they are:
Mark Davis, Kingsport, Tennessee
Mark Davis has lived his entire life in Kingsport. His dad, Gary, first took him to a Rookie Advanced Kingsport Mets game in 2000. They watched Jose Reyes in his first pro season. Mark was 16. Now he’s 36 and, more than 800 games later, the K-Mets haven’t faded from his life. He lives five minutes from Hunter Wright Stadium. He runs a Facebook group and Twitter page that have become trusted sources to update players’ families. He’s watched games with his nieces and his uncle, Ronnie. He’s sat behind home plate and gotten to know the team, often chatting it up with whomever is holding the radar gun that day. When some of them reach the big leagues, Davis marvels that he knew them when they got their start in his hometown.
Uncle Ronnie died in 2016 and Gary can’t get to the ballpark as often anymore because of health reasons. But even in a year where there are no K-Mets, Mark has too many memories at which he can look back fondly. Like when before the final game of the 2011 season, with the K-Mets on the road in Bristol, manager Frank Fultz had the entire team head into the crowd and shake Gary’s and Mark’s hands and thank them for their yearlong support.
“It was just a really special moment and kind of sums up the love of the game," Davis said. “It's not just about baseball, but it's about family.”
Eric Shanteau, Maumee, Ohio
Eric Shanteau grew up so close to Ned Skeldon Stadium, the former home of the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, that he could hear the public address announcer from his backyard. He and his family got to 15 or so games every year. That family got bigger in December when Eric and his wife, Kari, welcomed a baby boy, Ryan. Eric envisioned his first Father’s Day for months -- he, his dad and his son taking in a Mud Hens game at Fifth Third Field. Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down baseball and pretty much everything else. So Eric improvised.
It turned out the Mud Hens already had plans for a Father’s Day event in which dads could play catch with their kids on the field. Considering Ryan was a little young to be tossing a baseball, the Shanteaus were granted early access. They sat down on the grass and stared at the seats they usually occupy. It wasn’t the view Eric imagined when Ryan was born -- it might have been better.
“It was such a cool memory to have that,” Shanteau said.
Jenn Smith, Rome, Georgia
This would’ve been the 18th season for the Braves’ Class A affiliate in Rome. The Smith family has been season-ticket holders every year. They’re a farm family and there’s not much else to do in town, Jenn Smith said. State Mutual Stadium is home to their “summer family.” They arrived in 2003 with their son, Bryson, in a car carrier and sat behind the netting. In the years since, they’ve relocated to seats adjacent to the tunnel to the R-Braves’ dugout. That kind of access helped Bryson befriend the players, many of whom keep in touch even after graduating to higher Minor League ranks. Bryson became especially close with pitcher Julio Teheran.
The Smiths saw Teheran play at every level beyond Rome and even made it to his first start at Turner Field in 2011. That day, Jenn asked Bryson what he thought about his buddy reaching The Show. “It’s my same friend, just in a bigger place,” he replied.
Eric Lundelius, Stockton, California
The Modesto A’s gave Eric Lundelius his love for the intimacy of Minor League Baseball. It was just different than what he got out of trips to what was then known as the Oakland Coliseum. But he’s lived in Stockton for 15 years and Banner Island Ballpark has become a second home for his family during baseball season. His father-in-law, Bill, and daughter, Kaity, work on the Ports' gameday staff. Kaity, in Eric’s words, is “4-foot-11, 90 pounds and she's got one of the smallest voices ever.” She usually supervised the kids area, eventually moving up to run a merchandise kiosk and even worked as a souvenir vendor on fireworks nights. Those jobs require a little more spunk, and Kaity stepped up to the plate. Her dad -- and her first customer -- was so proud.
“You can actually see that she's grown more confident in herself,” Eric said. “As a parent, that's what you want. You want to see your kids grow and succeed in whatever they do. Watching her work at the ballpark, I've seen it.”
Julie Nelson, Olympia, Washington
For nine seasons, Julie Nelson had some of the best seats at the Cheney Stadium, right next to the Triple-A Rainers’ on-deck circle. Some 60 times a year, she’d make the hour drive to Tacoma. Nelson first brought her granddaughter, Leilani, when she was 3 years old. They received an endless stream of bats, balls, autographs and hugs from players. The interaction made Leilani feel like a princess. It made her a fan. She never got bored. She studied the game program and learned players’ birthdays and heights. She charted pitches. One time, she marked down when the teams made it through the order the first time because that meant it was time for Dippin’ Dots. Nelson still has that chart hanging on the fridge.
Back in November, Julie decided not to renew her tickets for 2020 because she knew a family matter would prevent her from attending most games. That won’t last forever. She has another granddaughter who’s almost as old as Leilani was when Nelson first brought her to Tacoma. It’ll be time to do it all again.
"I wish everybody,” Julie said, “could have the opportunity to expose their kids like that to baseball."
Kaden Enriquez, Kennewick, Washington
The Enriquez family began hosting a player from the Class A Short Season Tri-City Dust Devils every year starting when Kaden, now 22, was in sixth or seventh grade. Many of them became temporary family members. In 2012, Tom Murphy, now a Mariners catcher, did some cooking. His use of wine in the kitchen impressed Kaden. That same year, Zach Osborne went to some of Kaden’s Little League practices. Both players were fresh into pro ball, but their maturity stood out. Kaden saw how hard their grind was. It still shapes his view of the Minor Leagues.
“There's a lot more to Minor League Baseball than people think,” Enriquez said. “I know they might just be baseball players on a stat sheet, but considering how much the teams are involved with the communities that they're all in, it's so much more.”
LeRoid David, Sacramento, California
LeRoid David, a lifelong Bay Area resident and Giants fan, can’t complain about what the local big league team has given him in the last decade. He saw three championship parades, but he also saw his family grow and prices climb to the point where living in San Francisco wasn’t possible financially. The Davids moved to San Jose in 2016, and the affordability of Class A Advanced San Jose Giants games became a lot more appealing. They gave it a try and “it was really magical, man.” LeRoid immersed himself in Minor League culture. He wrote a guest blog post for MiLB.com’s Ben Hill. His youngest son, Eligh, became the youngest ever to throw out a first pitch at what is now known as Excite Ballpark. LeRoid even began sharing some of his art with other fans and players, and the exposure led to some freelance gigs.
The Davids have since moved to Sacramento and aren’t far from Sutter Health Park, home of the the Triple-A River Cats. Eligh loves it there because he can get so close that the players wave back and there’s room to chase foul balls. He’s only 4. He asks his dad almost every other day when he can go back to the ballpark. David tells him it’s closed. Waiting isn’t easy, but it gives them something to which they can both look forward.
“I just kind of go along with what my youngest was digging and just kind of support him,” David said. “In some ways, that kind of passion reminded me of my own childhood as well.”
Marah Mason, Little Elm, Texas
Marah Mason’s 12-year-old son, Drayke, is a little shy now, but growing up with selective mutism meant he couldn’t interact with anyone outside his own family. No words, no eye contact, nothing -- until he met Daisy. When Mason first pointed out the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders' mascot, Drayke went from a 3-year-old balled up under his seat to screaming out his love for Daisy from the top of it. It was his first breakthrough. Every time he returned to Dr Pepper Ballpark, he and Daisy exchanged gifts. He eventually proposed. The Mason family were always baseball fans, but the game had never done something of this magnitude.
“They gave me a part of my son I wasn't sure I would get to see,” Mason said.
Melba Resendez, Corpus Christi, Texas
For the last four seasons, Melba Resendez has opened her home to Astros prospects as a host for the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks. She’s bilingual, and the setup helps Latin players who stay with her improve their English while she works on her Spanish. Her favorite part of hosting, though, is when the players earn a promotion. In 2018, for example, Yordan Alvarez was in the process of moving out of an apartment and into Resendez’s place when he got called up to Triple-A Fresno. He had to fly out of Corpus Christi almost immediately, so Resendez helped make sure Alvarez was completely moved out and let him park his car at her place for weeks.
Those are the little things in which Resendez takes pride as she helps these players chase their dreams. Some of them call her mom and send her texts on Mother’s Day. Her connection often makes her think of her grandfather, who took her to games in Houston when she was a kid.
“He was a big Astros fan,” Resendez said, “and I think if he was still alive, he would be just so excited that I know these ballplayers.”
Todd Helgesen, Northwest Indiana
The Minors served several purposes for Todd Helgesen and his son, Oscar. They were a reprieve from the long weekends playing travel ball. Through conversations with Willson Contreras and a rehabbing Adam Wainwright, they were a reminder to stay the course, because Oscar -- now a collegiate pitcher -- wants to get drafted and have his name on the back of a Minor League jersey. Before anything, though, they were a bond between an 8-year-old kid and the guy who married his mom.
“We started using that to start building that father and son relationship, and now I think we have as good a relationship as any father and son,” Todd said. “I don't refer to him as my stepson; he doesn't refer to me as his stepdad. I think baseball helped build our family.”
Joe Bloss is a contributor for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.