By now, you’ve heard about MLB’s proposal to slash the minor leaguers. You’ve heard that they want to cut 42 non-complex minor-league squads out of existence. You’ve heard that we have this list of teams available to us. You’ve heard that the Lowell Spinners, the New York Penn League affiliate for the Red Sox, is on that list of 42 teams. You’ve heard that MLB wants to do this, according to them, to get bad facilities out of the game for minor-league players, among other reasons. You’ve heard that it’s going to cost young players chances at a dream. You’ve heard that locals in smaller communities around the country will have professional baseball taken away from them. You’ve heard all of the pros and cons (there are many more cons, in this writer’s opinion) from people who can lay them out more eloquently than me. That includes Congresswomen and Senators. I think this whole thing sucks and that it’s bad enough that the government should consider revoking MLB’s antitrust exemption over it. If they want to be a cold-blooded business, they should be treated like one, right? It’s like when a 14-year-old tells mom and dad they want to be treated like an adult.
But again, you can do more reading on the national ramifications on all of this from better writers and smarter people than myself. What I can speak to better than the national spin on all of this is the Spinners, who like I said finds themselves on the chopping block. I grew up in and spent most of the first 25 years of my life in Haverhill, which is in the same part of the state as Lowell and is 20-30 minutes from Lowell, depending on traffic. I spent about 85 percent of my life in this little slice of the country and grew up going to Spinners games. I wasn’t there all the time — it was pretty hard to get tickets for an entire family because they consistently sold out — but we went when we could. I loved Spinners games, and it was a big part of my upbringing as a baseball fan.
Now, the Spinners don’t necessarily fit a lot of the characteristics of some of the other teams being cut. A lot of the other teams are in more rural areas of the country who are further away from other professional teams. Lowell is less than an hour from Fenway (again, depending on traffic). If you live north of Lowell like I did, Portland isn’t all that far away. Neither is Manchester. If you live west, Worcester is about to get a team. There are other options, which can’t be said for a lot of these other teams getting cut. That doesn’t mean it’s fine the Spinners may be taken away, though.
It’s not as simple as saying people can still go to Red Sox games for reasons that should be pretty obvious. In Haverhill, I wasn’t all that far from Boston and was right on the train line that would take me directly into the city. Still, it’s expensive to get into the city by whatever means you take and absurdly expensive to actually go to the game and buy even a little bit at the concession stand. It’s expensive going to Maine or Worcester or wherever else to watch another minor-league game, too. Lowell was close for those of us in the Merrimack Valley, and it was easy to get in and out of. If you needed to leave early for whatever reason, it wasn’t a big deal to try and get out of the city. If the game went late, you weren’t too far from home. It’s perfect.
The biggest benefit of the Spinners was how well they catered to a younger audience. One of the loudest arguments you’ll hear against these potential cuts is how it will affect growing the game to a younger audience. Minor-league teams generally cater to younger audience than their major-league counterparts, but no park I’ve ever been to does it as well as the Spinners. Between the games and the mascots and the general environment, the Spinners is a perfect introduction to baseball for young kids. In fact, my nephew just turned five and whenever we take him to his first baseball game it’ll probably be a Spinners game. Fortunately, they’ll probably still be around for him. That won’t be the case for kids very soon if the league goes through with this. (Yes, the teams that are cut will be placed in some independent league run sort of run by MLB, but most of them probably won’t survive very long.) Even in a situation like there where there are other teams relatively close to this area, it’s still not a great alternative. Anyone who is around young kids enough knows it’s hard to predict how long they’ll actually want to sit around at a game. It’s easier to take that risk when you’re 20 minutes from home rather than driving an hour to Maine or central Mass.
It also has to be mentioned that MLB would be ripping the Spinners as we know them from the city after the city built this stadium for them. Now, it’s not like they just built the park, as it’s been open for 21 years now. It is also not only a Spinners park, as the UMass Lowell baseball team plays there, too. (As an aside, this also sucks for UMass Lowell players who used to be able to say they played at the same park as professionals. I knew some people who played there and that was a big selling point for them.) Still, MLB-affiliated organizations benefitting from public funds then cutting and running on a whim seems kinda shitty to me!
None of this is to say that the Spinners situation is uniquely upsetting, of course. If anything, I’m trying to say the opposite. I have a strong personal connection to the Spinners and seeing them potentially cut from professional baseball makes me very sad. Each and every one of these 42 teams has tons of people with similar connections. This is a monumental mistake by the league, and it’s one that none of these teams or communities deserve.