Get Your Tickets — Multiple Leagues Good for Midwestern Fans
What is a baseball fan to do with tickets being sold for only 20 to 30 percent of the seats in most Major League stadiums for the start of the 2021 season? If you are patient, these ticket percentages are almost certain to rise as the pandemic recedes during the late spring and summer. For those not wanting to wait until the heat of summer, you might look for tickets at a minor league or independent league baseball venue!
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Let me Count the Ways
Such baseball opportunities are plentiful in the Midwest because of the presence of two levels of minor leagues and four independent leagues. The Midwest region has teams from
- High A Central (former Midwest League)
- Triple A East (previous International League)
- Frontier League (Eastern and southern Midwest)
- American Association (Chicagoland and points west)
- Northwoods League (Upper Midwest) and
- Prospect League (along and east of the Mississippi River).
Adding up the teams residing in these various leagues and levels, the state with the most options is Illinois with 14 teams, followed by Wisconsin with 11. Count bordering cities such as Fargo and Omaha and you find seven teams at hand for Minnesotans, and five teams available to both Iowa and Indiana. Though most AA teams are found in the South and along the east Coast, there are AA teams on the fringes of the Midwest in southwest Missouri (Springfield) and eastern Ohio (Akron).
Midwest League Elevated
Better players will be playing in many locations as the former Midwest League has been elevated to a High-A league. There will be a lot of players whose climb up the talent ladder takes them to the towns where they played in Low-A within the past year or two!
It was taken as bad news when the Midwest League (now High-A Central) shrank from 16 to 12 teams, but the four teams left on the outside (Clinton, IA, Burlington, IA, Kane County, IL and Bowling Green, KY) are still alive and playing in 2021. Bowling Green was shifted to the East division (formerly South-Atlantic League) of High-A baseball. The two Iowa teams found spots in the now 16-team Prospect League and Kane County moves to the northern division of the American Association replacing the new top Twins affiliate St. Paul Saints. Yes, the Prospect League and AAPB play shorter 60-game and 100-game seasons respectively, but their mid and late May starting dates are not much later than the revised starting dates of the High-A season that is delayed until the first week of May.
Closer to Home
One goal of the reorganization was to better align minor league teams geographically with their MLB parent teams. How did the plan work out in this regard? The Beloit, WI Snappers moved from affiliation with the Houston Astros to pair up with Kansas City. Two of the teams left out of the reconfigured High A league were affiliated with NL West teams whose new teams are in the High-A West (in Oregon and Washington). Those MLB teams also did well.
The ongoing trend toward new and renovated ballparks will continue. Many of the ballparks even for lower minor league and independent teams are quite new with great amenities. 2020 renovation projects were more easily completed ahead of schedule when stadiums were emptied by COVID. Teams (and their cities) that kept minor league affiliations will have deadlines to meet certain standards for stadium facilities in order to maintain those relationships with MLB teams. A lot of these improvements are player-oriented, but fans will benefit as well.
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Better Weather as Spring Unfolds
May is typically quite a bit more pleasant than April over the northern parts of the US. In recent years, this difference has been made more dramatic by a tendency for chillier than normal April weather and near to warmer than normal May weather. This is one reason that there could be a great benefit from the fact that all of the minor league seasons have been moved back a month for 2021, starting five weeks after MLB with the minor league regular seasons extending through the first half of September.
Some time ago, I looked at the cold weather that can plague the month of April from Ohio into New England. Now let’s look at the spring weather for the west end of AAA East. This area, too, has had a recent tendency for very chilly April weather (see chart below) and 2020 was no exception. In the Twin Cities, seven days of that month had highs in the 40s, and three other days didn’t even surpass the 30s! April 2020 was drier than normal in this region, but many recent Aprils have been wetter (and/or whiter) than normal.
The month of May not only averages 12 degrees warmer than April in the Upper Midwest region but recent months of May have tended NOT to be chilly. In fact, many have been warmer than normal in Minnesota and Iowa. In 2018, as an extreme case May averaged 27 degrees warmer regionwide than April which had record cold and a fair amount of snow.