The 2019 Minor League Baseball season kicks off today at 2:05 p.m. ET with a pair of International League contests. Here are some things to keep an eye on this spring and summer.
This season marks milestone anniversaries for several MiLB teams. Be it a 50-year affiliation (Pawtucket) to a 10th Anniversary in the Eastern League (Richmond), nearly a dozen teams are celebrating an anniversary in 2019 and continuing their commitment to their communities.
Ambassadors for Change
With MiLB's diversity and inclusion initiative growing every year, MiLB.com has established an ongoing content series, Ambassadors for Change. Through these stories, fans can get a glimpse of the people and programs that champion diversity and inclusion and advance the mission of Minor League Baseball.
Best entertainment value in sports
Minor League Baseball remains a viable entertainment option for anyone looking for a fan-friendly event. From families, to couples, to singles and groups, MiLB tickets start at around $8, giving fans a great night of entertainment without breaking the bank.
Man's best friend has become a favorite in dugouts around the Minors, and bat-retrieving canines are becoming more and more common across Minor League Baseball. Recent years have seen a rise in four-legged batboys and batgirls in action and in training. While in Trenton and Greensboro, be sure to keep an eye on the action after the action at home plate!
It's hard to think of a better combination than baseball and beer. Minor League Baseball teams and their local breweries know this to be true, as no fewer than 30 teams across MiLB have a beer named for and dedicated specifically to the team.
The food and beverage customization isn't limited to beer at Minor League ballparks across the country. Some top chefs are ditching the white tablecloths to create mouth-watering masterpieces at the ballpark! Minor League teams have recently been featured on the Travel Channel show Food Paradise and were recognized this spring by Food Network Magazine! The outrageous (and at times ridiculous) concoctions make for some of the most delicious stadium foods in professional sports!
Several Minor League parks are dog-friendly establishments and nearly all will host at least one Bark in the Park game, where fans are invited to bring their canine friends out to catch a game. Check your local team's promotional calendar for the nights where you can bring your pet to the park!
So you think you can dance? Be careful, because with great video boards come great opportunities for fan engagement, which translates into you dancing in front of thousands of your closest friends! With an increasing number of teams opting for bigger and higher definition video boards, there won't be anywhere to hide once the camera catches you busting a move.
Es Divertido Ser Un Fan
The Es Divertido Ser Un Fan initiative expands MiLB's fan-centric marketing campaign It's Fun to be a Fan. The Spanish-translated campaign provides teams with an additional option to better connect with and engage fans in culturally relevant ways. The program debuted in August 2017 in select MiLB markets, including Las Vegas, Charlotte, North Carolina; Kane County, Illinois; and Visalia, California.
MiLB's official mobile app is a must-have for any baseball! Available on the App Store and on Google Play, fans using MiLB First Pitch can stay up-to-date on their favorite team and prospects and watch more than 6,500 games live and on-demand with their MiLB.TV subscriptions.
Minor League teams love to give their fans a good show, and those shows often end with things that go boom in the night. A longtime staple of MiLB teams' promotional calendars is the always popular fireworks night. Visit your local team's website to find the promotional schedule that is sure to be loaded with fireworks nights!
Great team names
MiLB has long had a reputation for coming up with some of the craziest team names in sports, but who says that's a bad thing? Each year, teams get more and more creative when rebranding, and fans are hearing MiLB's fun message, loud and clear.
What is Minor League Baseball without its prospects? Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the game's number one prospect, but you better plan to see him early because with a career .331 batting average, the 20-year-old might not be in the Minors much longer!
The 2019 season marks the return of affiliated baseball to Amarillo, Texas, after a 37-year absence. The new downtown ballpark named Hodgetown will be home to the Texas League's Amarillo Sod Poodles.
If you're going to a Minor League Baseball game, you're going to need to gear up! Minor League Baseball's Hometown Collection features throwback apparel for teams of yesteryear that will have fans taking trips down memory lane. Keep an eye on the MiLBStore.com throughout the summer for the latest releases of throwback attire.
If you think everyday MiLB identities are entertaining, wait until you see the teams' alternate identities. Minor League Baseball teams are not opposed changing things up for the sake of absurdity, and many of the most popular alternate identities are food related or part of MiLB's Copa de la Diversión initiative.
Off the field, MiLB dedicates significant resources, time and energy to champion its diversity, charitable and Women in Baseball initiatives. The organization takes a bigger-than-baseball approach to its work on these initiatives, and Minor League Baseball is seeing the positive effects of these efforts in its 160 communities.
The annual Jackie Robinson Celebration Game is played every year at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex (formerly known as Dodgertown) in Vero Beach, Florida, on April 15, the anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier. The Florida State League's St. Lucie Mets will host the Fort Myers Miracle in this year's contest.
With new identities and theme nights come new jerseys, and nobody does specialty jerseys better than Minor League Baseball. From Dwight Schrute to House Stark, themed jerseys will be rolled out by myriad of MiLB teams for theme nights, alternate identities, charity partnerships and more. Be prepared to bid on, and then take home, a game-worn jersey right off a player's back!
Worried your kids won't sit still and watch the game? Worry no longer, as most ballparks have the perfect place to blow off steam during the middle innings. In dedicated kid zones, fans of a certain age can enjoy the fun and excitement of seeing how fast they can pitch or bouncing around in an inflatable playland.
One of the highlights at select Minor League Baseball games is seeing which fans get paired up on the Kiss Cam! Figure out which inning the Kiss Cam takes place at your local ballpark, and make sure you know the person you're sitting next to!
Las Vegas Ballpark
Everything is new in Las Vegas this year, as the 51s will become the Aviators and move from Cashman Field to nearby Summerlin, where they will open the gorgeous Las Vegas Ballpark. The ballpark will have numerous amenities, including mesh-backed seats and a pool behind the center field wall.
Every team tries to make its ballpark one-of-a-kind. From the Choctaw Lazy River in Frisco to a miniature golf course in Lakewood to a Ferris Wheel in Davenport or the goat-petting area in Hartford, every Minor League Baseball stadium has something to see.
Sometimes cute, sometimes scary, but always unique, MiLB mascots are ready to go viral with their in-game shenanigans. Continuously providing joy and entertainment to fans of all ages at every game, mascots are a staple of the Minor League Baseball experience (and they never say no to autograph requests!).
If you're going to play the part, you need to dress the part! The MiLB store is your one-stop shop for MiLB apparel, caps, jerseys and novelty items. In addition to your favorite team's gear, the MiLB store has a full selection of Hometown Collection and Copa de la Diversión products available.
Names to know
Here is where you'll find Minor League Baseball's Top 100 prospects playing this summer. While much is expected from those players, it could be any one of the more than 5,000 players across Minor League Baseball that does something to create the memory that lasts a lifetime.
Nothing Minor about it
With Minor League Baseball having drawn over 40 million fans in each of the last 14 seasons, and with charitable giving by MiLB teams topping $45 million in 2018, it's pretty clear there's nothing minor about Minor League Baseball.
One hundred sixty
With 160 teams in the U.S. and Canada, Minor League Baseball covers the largest footprint of any professional sports league in the country. In 2018, MiLB teams welcomed nearly 40.5 million fans to its ballparks.
The fun and excitement starts tonight, with 54 of the 59 games beginning at 6 p.m. local time or later.
The 2019 season will see the implementation of MiLB's first-ever fan engagement platform geared toward embracing the LGBTQ community. Nearly 70 teams will participate in this new initiative by holding events at their ballparks that welcome the LGBTQ community with open arms. Each team will customize its Pride events to its community, so visit your team's website for details.
If you're looking for peanuts at Hartford's Dunkin' Donuts Park, you're out of luck. In February, the Yard Goats became the first professional sports team to remove all peanut products from its concessions stands. For those peanut allergy sufferers in other MiLB cities, check with your local team, as many of them host peanut-free nights.
MiLB has a well-established reputation for its unexpected, quirky logos. To name a few, Biloxi, El Paso and Montgomery have some of the wackiest logos in MiLB to match their equally wacky names. The Fayetteville Woodpeckers are joining the party in 2019 as one of MiLB's newest teams and brands.
If your idea of a perfect vacation is a lengthy road trip, look no further than Minor League Baseball. With 159 ballparks spread across 44 states and one Canadian province, it's easy to include more than just one ballgame in your travels.
Summer is when baseball is at its peak, and it's also when reading drops off for children. MiLB teams have accepted the task of engaging their young fans in literacy initiatives by establishing reading programs. Through the incentive-based programs and with the help of local libraries, students are encouraged to continue reading through the summer, ensuring their reading skills don't miss a beat when it comes time to return to school.
Is your team on the road? Are you on the road, missing an opportunity to see your home team? Your problems are solved with MiLB.TV, Minor League Baseball's official streaming platform. More than 6,500 games for more than 95 teams will be streamed live in 2019, including select All-Star and postseason games. Click here to see if your team is streaming and to subscribe!
Stars of Tomorrow, Today
Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, José Altuve and other baseball superstars all have one thing in common: they got their start in the minors. Head to a Minor League Baseball ballpark for a chance to see a future MLB MVP before they become stars.
Coined by the Asheville Tourists at historic McCormick Field (owner Ron McKee came up with the phrase in 1983), Thirsty Thursday has become a staple in the Minors. Though the details may vary from location to location, the gist is always the same: cheap beer and plenty of it. Check your local team's promotional calendar to see if it is hosting a "Thirsty Thursday," gather your friends and cheers!
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
As America's pastime, baseball is steeped in tradition. Minor League Baseball is no exception. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is sung at every game during the middle of the seventh inning. Peanuts and Cracker Jacks abound, the crowds are always ready to root, root, root for the home team.
Umpire Training Academy
Our umpires are no amateurs. Since 2012, MiLB has tasked itself with training umpires at the Umpire Training Academy. In every Minor League Baseball game, each umpire is a professional, trained by MiLB and educated through the Umpire Development program.
Last season, a couple of young baseball fans, Vincent Stio and Grant Dahlstrom, taught us that some fans attend games to watch the umpires. Their admiration of umpires showed through their seemingly authentic uniform and mimicked calls in the first row of several MiLB ballparks.
Looking for a game with a view? Look no farther than your Minor League ballpark. Known for the gorgeous scenery beyond the outfield walls, a plethora of ballparks have been commended for the views they put on display for fans to savor while they enjoy the games.
MiLB recognizes the sacrifice and contributions military members make for our great nation. To show our gratitude, many Minor League Baseball teams provide free tickets or ticket discounts to U.S. Armed Forces veterans and active duty, and the MiLB Charities Stars & Stripes Fund contributes to local military and veterans' organizations each year through the Charles K. Murphy Patriot Award.
Women in Baseball
From sports' first all-female broadcast booth in Salem to the first general manager in Triple-A baseball, women are truly making their mark on the game. The Women in Baseball Leadership Committee also hosts and organizes the Women in Baseball Leadership Event, Coffee & Connections and the LIFT Mentorship program throughout the year.
The excitement never stops in Minor League Baseball. Often, that excitement continues until the very end and you just never know how the game will end. The Eugene Emeralds won the 2018 Northwest League championship on a walk-off balk.
Last season, for the first time, all MiLB teams abided by the new extra innings rule that mandated each half of an extra inning begin with a runner on second base. The results were dramatic as 73 percent of extra inning games ended in one extra inning.
At ballparks across the country, fans can enjoy some of the tastiest and most creative food items around, including The Screamer (a full-size batting helmet filled with 21 scoops of ice cream, among several toppings) in Akron or the Grilled BBQ Mac & Cheese sandwich in Wisconsin. Make sure to ask what the craziest food item is at each park you visit this summer!
With 40 million fans at its ballparks, there are sure to be some unique people in the stands at MiLB games. The West Virginia Power have the "Toastman" -- a fan who sits behind home plate at every Power game and throws a piece of toast into the crowd every time the opposing team strikes out as he yells "that batter is toast!" The Williamsport Crosscutters take pride in their Director of Smiles, a fan who hung around the front office enough to be granted a one-of-a-kind position. Most teams have at least one "super fan," and like with the Toastman, it probably won't take you long to find them!
Did you know that 81 percent of the U.S. population lives in a market with a Minor League Baseball team? To find your nearest team(s), visit the tickets page on MiLB.com.
Mackenzie Parker is a contributor to MiLB.com.