Editor's Note from John: As part of our efforts to keep you entertained while I am on the disabled list, I asked our contributors to tell the story of how they became interested in minor league baseball. Share your own stories here!
Lee Warren: Growing up in Omaha, minor league baseball was just part of our culture because Rosenblatt Stadium was such an icon. I grew up just two miles from the stadium.
My mom used to take my sister and me to Omaha Royals games there whenever her single-parent budget would allow, or whenever her employer provided free tickets. One specific game during that era – one play, really – sticks out in my mind.
In 1978 (when I was 12 years old), my mom took us to a game in which Omaha third baseman Dave Cripe made a tremendous backhanded dive, ala Craig Nettles, on a ground ball that was smoked down the third base line. He jumped to his feet and threw the runner out. It made me think he might have a chance to play for Kansas City one day. But I was 12, so what did I know?
Looking back, he’d been in the organization since he was signed as a free agent in 1972. He played for Omaha for two and a half seasons, joining them in 1976. Of course, a guy named George Brett was already establishing himself at third base in Kansas City around that same time, so Cripe never stood much of a chance. But I continued to follow Cripe’s career.
I wasn’t a Royals fan yet (that would happen a couple of years later), but this one play made me realize that minor leaguers could play at a high level. A few years later, after my uncle converted me into a Royals fan, I thought about Cripe’s play in light of the fact that he had no shot of playing third base for Kansas City. As a result, I began to appreciate the struggle minor leaguers go through in pursuit of the big leagues.
Many years later, a newspaper editor I was writing a story for pointed out that I have an eye for getting the most out of an interview with a blue collar player. He was referring to the major leagues, but I had little doubt that my affinity for such players was rooted in that day Dave Cripe went all out on a ground ball in the minor leagues.