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October 23, 2014
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Columns

The Hot Stove: Why summer college baseball matters

In the middle of a season, college baseball players typically have little downtime, which makes some players value the unwinding that occurs in the offseason. However, many will continue to play by trading their college uniforms and slapping on a jersey for a different team.

This summer, I interned with the Worcester Bravehearts, a summer collegiate baseball team in Worcester, Massachusetts, to see first-hand the extension of a student-athlete’s season. The purpose of the league is to showcase NCAA talent from New England and beyond during a 56–game season.

But most baseball fans, and even writers, have questioned the purpose. After all, the vast majority of players will not make it to the major leagues and likely will not play together beyond that summer.

Even hometown sports writer Bill Ballou from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette said in a recent column the instruction and sense of comradery is wasted since most players will not play together after the summer, and even fewer will go on to play Major League Baseball.

“Teams surround two potential big leaguers with 20 other guys in uniform, just so they can schedule games and not just do long batting practices,” he said.

But there’s a greater purpose to these summer leagues, and what this team was able to accomplish sheds light on why these teams in New England cities and towns actually matter — not just for the players, but for everyone involved.

The league brought together 10 teams of about 30 college baseball players. Practice began June 2, and the season began two days later. Despite the lack of initial familiarity with one another, the Bravehearts won their first six games and would spend days together working baseball camps or taking beach trips on off days.

Though there was a disparity in talent, each player was there to play baseball in front of fans and scouts. Sure, only certain players have a shot at being drafted, but every player I met — hailing from Worcester to Glendale, Arizona — enjoyed his experience.

And when Boston Red Sox tickets cost at least $30 for terrible seats, fans choose to watch baseball in minor league stadiums where good seats are less than $10, the games last two hours instead of three and kids sprint — and always defeat — the mascot in a race around the bases. And those events create lasting memories that everybody involved will carry with them.

So despite Ballou’s skepticism, these developmental leagues are important because they create fond memories during the summer. In my case, the Bravehearts helped me improve my press box coordination skills. For others, they learn sales strategies that help lead to some sellout crowds of more than 3,000 fans. Managers and coaches also received practice leading their ball clubs. But most importantly, the fans come to a baseball game that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

The future for everybody involved is not necessarily Major League Baseball, but when the players and staff showed up at the ballpark, they felt like they were in the big leagues.