With Manny Ramirez beginning his minor league stint prepping for his return to the Dodgers, it got me thinking about my time as a minor league broadcaster.
I spent four years in minor league baseball, one in Rochester, NY with the Red Wings of the International League … and three with the Schaumburg Flyers of the independent Northern League.
I got a chance to see a no-hitter thrown, a four-home run game, and a player play all nine positions in a nine inning game. I saw a veteran player hit a homer, round the bases, rip off his shirt and retire at home plate. I saw a manager order that an opposing player be hit by a pitch for three consecutive at-bats because the offending batter had accidentally fouled a ball off the manager’s daughter the night before.
I’ve heard John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” quite possibly thousands of time and every version of rain delay music you can think of (Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, Here Comes the Rain Again, Can You Stand the Rain?, Singing in the Rain, Rain in the Summertime etc …).
I’ve seen the Zooperstars perform too many times to count … and Myron Noodleman’s act TOO MANY TIMES.
I’ve seen nuns giving massages in the grandstands, pigs delivering balls to the umpires and Ila Borders, the first female pitcher in pro ball, throw back-to-back no-hit innings.
I’ve been on bus trips from Chicago to Winnipeg where players have boarded without a book, magazine, computer or cellphone and looked out the window for an entire 16-hour trip. Let me tell you, the view doesn’t change much on that trip. Cornfields and more cornfields. I’ve also had some of the best baseball conversations in my life over $8 steaks in Sioux Falls.
And that’s what I’ll always remember.
My first year with the Schaumburg Flyers was in 1999. The Flyers were an expansion team that year. An expansion team in an unaffiliated independent league. It doesn’t get any lower than that in pro ball. The roster is made up exclusively of undrafted college players and players that have been released from the lower levels of big league organizations.
Back then in was 22 players splitting each team’s salary-capped $82,000. Meal money was $15 a day. But you had a chance. A chance to play pro ball for the summer and hope against hope that you could catch the eye of a scout working for a team in affiliated ball. Once you got signed … well then you could really dream.
Of those 22 players on the 1999 Schaumburg Flyers, two of them have made the big leagues. Jim Rushford making it to Milwaukee Brewers in 2002. And just last year, Alberto Castillo getting a chance with the Baltimore Orioles. The fact that two guys made it to The Show is astounding.
I’ve had a lot of good times in the world or baseball. But the moments that make me proudest are the moments I spent in the minors. You’ve got to earn your way in baseball. That’s the way its always been. That’s the way it always should be.
— Eric Collins