For those unfamiliar with independent baseball, there is always an air of uncertainty year to year.
Independent baseball attempts to provide affordable family entertainment while competing against professional teams located in the same area.
The game is the same, the talent level may not be up to par for some baseball fans but the game is marketed on a grassroots level and can promise that its players will give their all each and every time on the field.
I can attest to that. During my stint with the Gateway Grizzlies, we were a first-year franchise located in a sports hot bed (the greater St. Louis area). The fact that we were competing with major franchises in Missouri and Illinois meant that our product had to be superior, in one area or another.
We, the players did our part; signing autographs, always available for photos and doing what we could on the field of battle. And though I can’t say that I made a lasting impression on the fans, “my team” has continued to triumph completing its 10th year in the Frontier League.
Equally, the Northern League has been in existence since 1902 (unreal), and the Golden Baseball League and United League Baseball have made enormous strides in the past few seasons trying to separate themselves from the pack.
What is more unbelievable is that these three leagues are responsible for “35% of the professional independent minor league baseball teams in North America in 2010, they were responsible for placing half of the players on the Baseball America Indy Top Prospects list and six of the fourteen players named to the all Independent Leagues First Team by Baseball America.
"In addition, the three leagues have sold 35 player contracts to major league organizations so far in 2010 and are all recognized as an important source of baseball talent including players, umpires, coaches/managers, and front office/business personnel by big league clubs.” - Courtesy of the GBL.
I have been following the GBL and ULB with great interest over the past three to four years and have been pleasantly surprised with the expansion and coverage that has been bestowed on both leagues.
However, it was unfortunate to hear that financial difficulties were in fact leading to contraction/merger (depending on how you look at it). This information has been referenced in a previous article—Golden Baseball League and Northern League are in the midst of upheaval
The ULB, the smallest of the three, will obviously benefit with this group effort. Increased advertising and marketing abilities will do wonders for this league that did raise some eyebrows this past season, signing Jose Canseco.
Whether this was to put fans in the seats or if it was a legitimate opportunity for an attempted comeback…who knows, although the future of the league was facing some uncertainty once the start-up Pecos League set up their headquarters in the same state.
I sincerely hope the NAL is successful. With three independent leagues forming a super-league, it will undoubtedly be a massive undertaking. It will just have to follow two basic rules: work as one, and produce a quality product.
If the collaboration is unsuccessful, it will leave little doubt in the eyes of many as to where not to locate a franchise.
You can quite easily suggest that the product is saturated in certain locales and no matter how good a product, it will never pan out.
Questions will always arise when Indy clubs do not meet the standards they set up to meet, leaving us to wonder; Are four professional independent leagues enough? Are six too many?
Can this group effort, this partnership, help other fledgling leagues?
Possibly, less is more?
Can the future of independent baseball be realized when the alliance contains its own competition?
The results on the field may mean less than at any other time in the Indy game, but with 22 defunct leagues since 1994, the effort will always be there and soon enough the winning formula will be found. When that happens Independent won’t sound so foreign.
Can Indy be mainstream? I do believe so.
Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective