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Future Baseball Stars Mingle With Small-Town Fans


The minor league crowd gets a close-up look at Christian Colon, a 21-year-old first round draft pick for the Blue Rocks.

The minor league crowd gets a close-up look at Christian Colon, a 21-year-old first round draft pick for the Blue Rocks.

For professional baseball players, the minor leagues are a stepping stone to the fame and fortune of the majors.

But as players pass through small minor league towns and cities, they may discover a different kind of reward.

Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Delaware, is nothing like the massive arenas where the major league teams play before tens of thousands of fans. There are no huge upper decks or expensive sky boxes. Only about 6,500 hundred people can fit into Frawley. Fans enjoy the intimate setting of minor league games and the excitement of possibly seeing baseball's future stars.

Fans enjoy the intimate setting of minor league games and the excitement of possibly seeing baseball's future stars.

Fan friendly

But that doesn't dampen the crowd's enthusiasm for their minor league team, the Blue Rocks. Some fans come early and watch the players warm up.

Adele Taylor, who's been a Wilmington Blue Rocks fan for 15 years, sits in the first row, near her team's dug-out.

"You get to know the players, like my Mr. Catcher here, Mr. Salvador Perez," she says as Perez laughs.

Taylor holds a stack of cards with pictures of each player.

"The team puts out baseball cards. And just as a hobby, I get players to sign. I just do it to get to know them." Players enjoy a close relationship with some of their fans. Many players live with a local family during the season.

Players enjoy a close relationship with some of their fans. Many players live with a local family during the season.

"Where else can you get seats for $6 dollars behind home plate?" asks Bill McLaughlan, who along with his wife Betty, gets to the game early.

His wife agrees. "Good seats, good people, the people who work here are nice. And I enjoy it."

It's a very different setting than a major league game.

Blue Rocks manager Brian Rupp says his players respond to that.

"Most minor league parks are, you know - everything's a little bit closer. The fans are a little bit closer. It is more of an intimate setting. You come out, you constantly see people wanting autographs, kids all around all the time. And the players are very respectful of that and take their time and sign a lot of autographs and get to know the fans, especially the ones who are here every night. It's a lot more fan friendly."

Training for the big leagues

All major league teams have minor league affiliates.

The Blue Rocks are the farm team for the Kansas City Royals. Usually located in smaller communities, these teams are a training ground for young players to develop their skills and fine tune their game. There's none of the glamour of the big leagues. These players travel by bus, not chartered airplanes. They work hard all season, playing a game almost every day.

"It teaches you how to deal with failure," says Christian Colon, a 21-year-old from Puerto Rico. A star player at his California college, Colon was a first round draft pick for the Blue Rocks. "You're going to find failure in this game and that's why you have the minor leagues. It teaches how to fail and once you do, you learn how to rebound and find your way."

The hometown reception the players get undoubtedly helps them find their way. In Wilmington, as in other league communities, many players live with a local family during the season.

Community players

Pitcher Buddy Baumann, 22, has enjoyed that experience.

"We have host families. So the fans that really love the team, they get to take care of us and we get to stay at their house for free. And it's a great way to get out there and get to know everybody who's rooting for you."

Players and coaches give back to their community, visiting hospitals, camps and schools. Nicholas Marcozzi, 10, got to throw out the first pitch at a recent game after his parents won the privilege at his school's fundraising auction.

Nicholas Marcozzi, 10, got to throw out the first pitch at a recent game after his parents won the privilege at his school's fundraising auction.

The team sponsors baseball clinics for kids. Before games, it recognizes outstanding students, exceptional youth sports teams, and kids with birthdays.

Nicholas Marcozzi, 10, gets to throw out the first pitch at tonight's game. He's been practicing for his big night since his parents won the privilege at a school auction.

As they practice, all the Blue Rocks players dream of one day being in the major leagues. And their fans dream along with them.

"It's fun to watch them develop. It's an opportunity that they can move and get to the big leagues," says one fan in the stands. "I get very excited when they get called up."

Another man agrees. "You get to see the stars of tomorrow."

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