A minor league GM once told me that 85% of the people who come to see his team play are not diehard baseball fans. They are there to soak up the sun, give their kids a safe place to play and enjoy a little food and beverage among family and friends.
These fans aren’t pouring over the box scores or stats and they aren’t arguing over which players deserve a shot in the big leagues – like the diehards in the other 15%.
So it makes sense for a team to cater to the 85% via promotions between every inning, child PA announcer gigs, Wiffle Ball fields, fun zones that resemble mini-amusement parks, and, of course, mascots. Lots of mascots.
I know a woman who owns half a season ticket package with her husband. They bring their kids out to the ballpark for an hour and a half many summer nights. It’s a good safe environment for the kids and it gives her and her husband a chance to catch a few innings of minor league baseball. Seems like a perfect combination.
Her family is the epitome of the 85%, and I mean that in the best way possible. Minor league baseball is mostly about fans embracing, and ultimately, remembering a moment. It’s about posing for a picture with the mascot. It’s about catching a foul ball and getting it autographed. It’s about appearing on the fan cam.
On July 3, I took my mom to a minor league game in Omaha. She broke a bone in her foot shortly before that so I pushed her into the ballpark in a wheelchair and we settled into our seats behind home plate, in the handicapped section. A few innings into the game, she began to cheer and clap as home team players got on base and then scored. At one point, she leaned over and said, "I used to take you to the ballpark, now you are taking me."
I’ve already forgotten the score of the game that night. But I’ll never forget the moment my mom connected the past to the present while we were sitting in section 115. It was an 85 percenter moment – one that even the most diehard 15 percenter could appreciate.
For several days afterward, she spoke about how much fun she had at the game, and how the fireworks show after the game was the best she had ever seen.
Over the years as a 15 percenter, part of me has cringed over the need for MiLB clubs to entertain fans every moment of every game while another part of me has gotten caught up in those moments. Part of me has wondered why minor league stadiums need a Wiffle Ball field beyond the center field wall and the other part knows I would have been swinging for the fences if such a place existed when I was young.
Maybe I’m softening in my old age. But immersing myself in box scores and statistics and arguing over who deserves to be called up to the big leagues doesn’t have the allure it once did.
Recently, I tweeted some quotes from a minor league pitching coach about a player who got called up to the big leagues, highlighting the pitcher's strengths and weaknesses. Someone jumped to the conclusion that I was saying the pitcher wasn’t ready for the big leagues. I don’t know how he arrived at the conclusion, but I assured him that I was just passing along information. He responded by saying he was just worried that the pitcher wasn’t ready.
I don’t want to read too much into his last tweet, but I couldn’t help but wonder how someone has the emotional energy to worry about such things.
I will say this though, it helped confirm something in my mind – if there is a sliding scale of extremes in the 15% camp, then I’m on the end that could easily be mistaken for an 85% percenter.