Chicago Cubs: Minor League Baseball still means a lot to the fans

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Here’s a story from my childhood about attending a Minor League Baseball game when I got to meet some future Chicago Cubs players.

Growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, I got to attend many Minor League Baseball games as we had a team of our own, the Michigan Battle Cats. As a Chicago Cubs fan, I always tried to go when the hometown team was playing the Lansing Lugnuts, a Cubs affiliate. There’s one game in particular that I still remember 20 years later.

It was 1999, and I was 14 years old. My mom took my cousin, my brother, and me to a doubleheader, and we sat out in the left field seats. I was particularly excited to see two top Cubs prospects, outfielder Corey Patterson and first baseman Hee-Seop Choi. Carlos Zambrano was also on that team, though I didn’t know much about him.

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The Cubs had a catching prospect named Jeff Goldbach. Though he never reached the major leagues, he would be the star of game one of the doubleheader. Goldbach hit two home runs, both to left field. The first ball came right to us, and my cousin caught it. The second one disappeared behind the scoreboard to our left.

We joined a group of about a dozen kids who went looking for the ball. It was half-dark, as the sun was setting, making it difficult to see. After a couple minutes, my cousin emerged with the ball! Amazingly, he was able to obtain both home runs from the same player.

In between games of the doubleheader, we all headed over to the visiting dugout to try to get the ball signed by as many players as we could. Goldbach was there, along with Patterson and Choi. They all were kind to us kids and signed both of the baseballs. We watched part of the second game of the doubleheader before leaving.

I’d never been more excited leaving a baseball game as I was then. Though Patterson and Choi didn’t become stars, they did make the major leagues with the Cubs. I still have the two signed baseballs on display in my Cubs-themed mancave in my basement.

Why am I bringing this up now, 20 years after it happened? I’ve thought a lot about that day recently, as there has been talk of eliminating some minor league teams; indeed, Minor League Baseball as we know it seems to be in jeopardy. It’s a shame because the minor leagues are a more affordable and down-to-earth way for fans young and old to experience the great game of baseball.

I have lots of great minor league memories, especially from my childhood. It was also at a South Bend Cubs game that I got to see the 2016 World Series championship trophy and get my picture with it. Attending a Major League Baseball game is a great experience, but the minor leagues are their own unique experience too. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a big Bull Durham fan.

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Minor League Baseball provides an important pipeline for future major league talent. Yet it also is a great experience for the fans. I hope that this situation can get worked out and that the minor leagues as we know them continue to thrive for a long time.