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Baseball is Back, Opening Day is Here

It’s July 3rd, the recognized day off for Independence Day for many of us. And no Independence Day feels complete without a little baseball. Now you might be saying, hold your horses pal, Major League Baseball doesn’t return until the end of July and they just announced the other day that minor league baseball was cancelled.

And while you are correct with all of those statements, baseball still returns TODAY.

For those of you who still don’t know, I work for a professional, independent, minor league baseball team called the Sioux City Explorers. We play in a league known as the American Association and have been around since 1993.

Independent baseball leagues are separate from what we in the industry like to call “affiliated.” Those affiliated teams (think Pawtucket, Portland, Salem etc. for the Red Sox) unfortunately had their seasons postponed due to COVID-19.

However the American Association is still having baseball this summer albeit under different terms.

One of those terms is that out of our 12 team league only six teams are playing. Unfortunately, my X’s are on the outside looking in and will be back next summer. However the six teams; Chicago Dogs, Milwaukee Milkmen, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Winnipeg Goldeyes and St. Paul Saints are playing a 60 game season, with a final five game series between the top two teams to determine a champion.

And did I remind you that all starts TODAY???

You can watch games for an easy payment of that crumpled up, old $20 bill still in your wallet. Mind you that’s cheaper than one month of MLB TV. Or follow teams along via twitter.

I get these questions a lot and will answer them now for you in case you’re still wondering. Again no we do not have a major league club to promote players to. And this is not semi-pro. This is professional baseball that mathematically speaking is a talent level equal to somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A.

So now that you have a handle on what this league is about, let me introduce you to the six teams that are playing. I will be giving you a run down of each team, a major league equivalent and since I’m a radio broadcaster, I’ll let you know a bit about each voice you’ll be hearing this summer.

Chicago Dogs

Chicago_Dogs_baseball

One of the new teams in the American Association, the Chicago Dogs are only a couple of years old and yet last season we’re knocking on the door of a playoff berth. They play in a ban box of a stadium, 312-390-294 respectively around the park. That means a ton of homers, and a ton of excitement.

They are named, as you can see by their logo after the iconic Chicago hot dog, which I believe more teams should name their mascots after food. But my god, do not ever get caught putting ketchup on your hot dog…

They are also managed by a familiar name to Red Sox fans in Butch Hobson.

Major League Equivalent: Colorado Rockies

Broadcaster, Sam Brief: Sam is one of the youngest talents in the league and one of the brightest. The dude has a mile wide smile on at all times. He’s also a Northwestern alumnus so you know he’s incredibly smart. He brings a ton of energy to every call he makes, whether it’s a tie game in the ninth of a ten run blowout in the third.

Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks

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Fargo is an established power in this league, and yet they have not won a championship for a decade. They always have a ton of talent, a great look and brand and last year were probably the best team in the league. However they lost a 2-0 series lead in a best of five to the eventual champ Saints so you know they are out for revenge this season.

In the dispersal draft this year they took outfielder Dario Pizzano, who signed with my team and for some of you may be a notable name seeing as he hails from Saugus and was a catalyst on that incredible Little League World Series team back in the day. They also drafted a catcher Dylan Kelly, who I am proud to say in my years with the Explorers has become one of my very good friends, so I will be rooting for him.

Fargo, North Dakota while perhaps seemingly in the middle of nowhere to many of you is a great town. Newman Outdoor Field is on the campus of North Dakota State University, just across the street basically from the house that Carson Wentz built, the Fargo-Dome. Also shout out to the visiting hotel we stay at, it has a black jack table and working casino in the lobby, with the proceeds going to NDSU. My meal money has helped many a collegiate scholar.

Major League Equivalent: Los Angeles Dodgers

Broadcaster, Jack Michaels: Oh man, let me tell you that if you had a five minute conversation with Jack it would change your life. The man is a non-stop entertainment factory to his plethora of phrases and sayings to his stories. He’s someone that I could seriously throw on the radio during the summer and be entertained for three hours straight. I don’t think there is a single person alive who doesn’t like Jack Michaels.

Milwaukee Milkmen

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The newest team to our league, they started just last year so I don’t know too much about them. It’s tough to really judge a team after only one season in independent baseball, there’s a steep learning curve to how things work and how to win baseball games. Very nice field however, albeit weird press box windows if I am being honest.

Oh and they play in Wisconsin. Which means you could stop at any gas station near by and pick up some cheese curds and Spotted Cow. For those of you that don’t know, Spotted Cow beer is perhaps the best beer I’ve ever had. And I’ve needed it for all of the times I have driven all the way to Madison just to see my Huskers get squashed by the Badgers in football.

Major League Equivalent: Seattle Mariners

Broadcaster, Ummmmmm not sure: They didn’t send anybody when the team traveled, and when I went to Milwaukee last year they had two different guys for a three game series and sadly I don’t remember their names. So I can’t help you on this one.

Sioux Falls Canaries

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Another team that will put up a ton of runs because of their ballpark. I believe their stadium is called “Sioux Falls Stadium” or something like that? But if you want to be a fan of this league you’ll call it the Bird Cage. And it plays just like a “Bird Cage” would.

No lead, and trust me when I say this, absolutely no lead is safe in Sioux Falls. Last year we had a game where my Explorers raced out to a 6-0 top of the first inning lead only to see it all but disappear in the home half of the inning with a five run Birds rally, en route to a 11-10 Sioux Falls victory.

There was even a three game series last season where a total of 93 runs were scored. 93 RUNS. The Bird Cage is no joke.

Major League Equivalent: Baltimore Orioles (But not totally useless, like the good version of Chris Davis, Orioles)

Broadcaster, Carter Woodiel: Seriously, Carter might be the nicest person I have ever met. I think you could throw him out a window and he would apologize to you. Seriously though he is always upbeat and quick witted. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard him stumble over his words or thoughts a single time, it’s always a pleasure seeing Carter.

St. Paul Saints

stpaulsaints

Plain and simple, the Saints are the New York Yankees of this league. If you just want to root for the top organization, with the nicest ballpark, biggest market and is a consistent winner then stop right here you found your team.

They are also the defending league champions sweeping my Explorers in the finals. Yes I was gutted.

I’ve watched this clip hundreds of times this winter, and I am so disappointed that we aren’t able to play and try and redeem ourselves from this. I know I don’t actually play I just talk about way more talented people than me playing, but still, this gets me fired up to get back out there.

The Saints are also the kings are incredibly creative and wacky promotions. Like when they had Kevin Millar, who started his baseball career with the Saints mind you, take a real official at bat in a real official game and he hit a home run…

Or making a talking bobble head poking fun at the Houston Astros.

Major League Equivalent: New York Yankees

Broadcaster, Sean Aronson: Sean is one of the veterans of this league and one of the best to do it in my humble opinion. Sean is definitely one of the guys that I look up to and at times try and emulate in my own broadcasts. He has an incredible way of being conversational, entertaining and informative for three straight hours every night. And as you could tell in those clips I shared, he nails every single big call. He also runs the team’s wildly popular twitter account which is up there with Wendy’s for snarkiest on the platform. And I know he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Winnipeg Goldeyes

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The Fish, are a wildly successful team. Three time league champs, including going back to back in 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately for Winnipeg, with this pandemic and the border closed, they are strictly a travel team this year.

Winnipeg is always a fun place to visit, fantastic ballpark, different culture and a Tim Hortons on literally every corner. And apparently something called dill sauce which is great on chicken strips, oh and all the poutine you could eat.

Winnipeg is certainly one of the pillars of the American Association. They are always good and always a threat to take home the title. It’s just a shame that we won’t get to see them play at home this season as they will permanently be in Fargo.

Major League Equivalent: Boston Red Sox

Broadcaster, Steve Schuster: You will not meet another more prepared individual or someone as dedicated to their craft as Steve Schuster. The man has stats upon stats upon stats for the American Association. He has even helped bring the league into the 21st century with his saber metric number crunching. And the best part is that nobody would blame him if he kept those numbers to himself, but yet he shares it with the world for all to know. And if you ever listened to him on air, and then met him in person you would think he is two different people. In person he is pleasant and down to earth. Then on air, he is a non-stop energy factory. I have no clue how he does it. He is certainly another broadcaster I aspire to be like someday.

Final Thoughts

Well there you have it, a run down of all six teams playing and the voices you will be hearing this summer.

Let’s just celebrate the fact that professional baseball is indeed back folks. I hope you are able to enjoy and learn to love this league as much as I have. This brand of baseball is about developing talent sure, but it’s more about winning, and that makes it so much fun to watch.

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Connor Ryan (@connoryan68/@PodVerbalCommit)

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