Minor league teams play major role in American culture - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Minor league teams play major role in American culture

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Young fans greet a South Maryland Blue Crabs player before the start of a game. (Source: CNN) Young fans greet a South Maryland Blue Crabs player before the start of a game. (Source: CNN)

WALDORF, MD (CNN) - Far from the bright lights and big salaries on big league diamonds, minor league teams play a major role in their communities during the summer months.

On a Friday night, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs share the field with local Boy Scouts, and they share the spotlight with a mascot named Pinch.

It's a scene that plays out in the hundreds of minor league ballparks across the country.

Family is at the heart of the appeal and the business strategy.

"I like to think in this business that baseball has been secondary, and the entertainment, the family experience, being the top priority," said Blue Crabs General Manager Patrick Day.

More than 50 miles from Baltimore's Orioles, about 30 from Washington's Nationals, $8 buys a spot on the lawn, $13 a seat in the stands.

At least 48 million fans came through minor league turnstiles last year, 2.2 million for the Independent Atlantic League where the Blue Crabs play. The team is unaffiliated with a Major League club.

"The majority played in Triple A baseball, which is a very high level, or in the big leagues," Day said. "More than half of them played in the big leagues at one time. They get it, and they do enjoy it."

First-year manager Lance Burkhart gets the sport's family-friendly appeal.

"My older brother Morgan played for the Red Sox and a little bit for Kansas City, and my younger brother Damon played a little bit for the Frontier League for a few years, too," Burkhart said. "So it's in the blood, I guess."

His job is to create a family, of sorts, in the clubhouse.

An anchor of that family is 37-year-old Jeremy Owens. He's spent 17 seasons in the minor leagues. This season he's transitioning - less player, more coach - and possesses the same love of the game.

"I love putting the uniform on and getting out there," Owens said. "I still take batting practice with the guys. It's hard to lay the bat down."

Even when the Blue Crabs lose, most fans don't seem to mind.

"There are diehard fans that are here for every single game," Day said. "By the end of the summer, everybody becomes one big family."

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