The Minor Leagues Are a Crystal Ball by thad mumau

As the Fayetteville/Buies Creek Astros embark on their second season, dirt is being moved to begin building a baseball stadium for the team. Not just any ball yard. A multi-million dollar tabernacle with all the fixin’s.

I’m excited! I love baseball and having our own ball club downtown is very Americana. Families finishing supper, driving to town and watching a game. Root, root, root for the home team. Vendors hawking hot dogs, peanuts and Crackerjack.

Take me out to the ballgame.

Minor league baseball is special. Anyone following the game knows that. You see a kid pitcher firing speedballs, some of them maybe hitting the backstop, and some day down the road, you see him on your television screen.

The chance to see prospects develop. From the home team and the visitors. To do this, you’ve got to attend games on a regular basis. Catching a game here and there, you might miss it. Miss that gangly outfielder getting hold of one and sending the ball into orbit.

Baseball is unique. Although it moves at what some feel is a slow pace, baseball requires more all-around skills than any sport. True students of the game – not just the fan(atical)s – have the patience to see a certain something in a batter’s swing or a pitcher’s delivery. Even if both result mostly in misfires.

They notice the bat speed and the movement of the pitch. Only a few of those youngsters on the field possess enough of either to predict a trip to The Show.

Back when the Generals were in their first season out at Riddle Stadium, one of their opponents was Asheville.  The Tourists had this catcher, who looked a bit undersized for the position but who also had IT. It being the swing, arm, foot speed and instinct to project a big league career.

And, boy, did he have a great one. Twenty years with the Houston Astros, switching to center field and then to second base. Craig Biggio rapped out more than 3,000 hits, made seven All-Star teams and punched himself a ticket to Cooperstown.

The next season, in the summer of 1988, the Generals had a hot prospect of their own. Travis Fryman, a skinny shortstop who did not hit a home run in 123 games, displayed the smooth fielding and quick hands that would make him a major leaguer.

Mostly as a third baseman, Fryman was a five-time All-Star who smacked 223 homers in a 13-year career with the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

Folks who attended most of the Generals’ games were treated to a glimpse at those two stars in the making. None likely predicted that Fryman would become a power hitter, but many probably saw that he could be an outstanding infielder.

The point is that part of the allure of minor league baseball is watching players whose names will someday appear in big league box scores. It’s a bonus. Sure, it’s fun to pull for the home team, scream when a home run leaves the park and applaud like crazy when a pitcher mows down one batter after another.

But how many folks get the chance to witness greatness before it’s great?

Anyone choosing to be a regular in the stands at a minor league ballpark can do that. Will do that.

We’re all going to have that opportunity.

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