Within a matter of days before starting the season, several Minor League Baseball teams will face off against local colleges in exhibition matches. This year features an interesting slate of minor league vs. college matchups, prompting a closer look in the latest Promotions Watch.
Across the board, preseason exhibition matches have been an often-utilized way for clubs to open up the ballpark and give the fans an early look at both the team and the operation. In some cases, this is done by having a parent club visit its affiliate—a trend we discussed in January on Spring Training Online—or by having two minor-league squads face each other. This will be seen a few times this year, with the most notable matches including the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A; Carolina League) at the Charleston RiverDogs (Low A; Sally League), the Akron RubberDucks (Class AA; Eastern League) at the Lake County Captains (Low A; Midwest League), and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA; International League) at the Reading Fightin’ Phils (Class AA; Eastern League).
Some clubs, though, have opted to bring in local universities to face a minor league squad. Along with giving the fans some action before the season begins, minor-league teams can use these games to reach members of a local campus community and promote collegiate baseball programs.
The first of the games highlighted in this post is slated for April 4, when the Biloxi Shuckers (Class AA; Southern League) host the Jackson State Tigers. This will be one of two preseason exhibitions for the Shuckers at MGM Park, as the parent club Milwaukee Brewers will come to town on April 2.
April 5 will mark a busy day for preseason exhibitions, with three games on the docket. The Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League) will open up Regions Field for a matchup against the Miles Golden Bears. It will be the Golden Bears’ first visit to Regions Field since 2014, and the third consecutive season in which the Barons have faced off against a college squad.
There will be exhibition games in the Chesapeake Bay region on that same date. In Salisbury, the Delmarva Shorebirds will once again welcome the Salisbury Seagulls for a matchup at Arthur W. Purdue Stadium. For the players, this game will be a chance to break in some updated amenities—including a new playing surface—as the Shorebirds improved some behind-the-scenes aspects of the stadium this offseason, beginning a two-phase overhaul of the facility.
Down in Virginia, the Norfolk Tides (Class AAA; International League) will host the Norfolk State Spartans. While this is the sixth time that these two squads have met at Harbor Park, this year should be particularly interesting for the Tides and their fans. The club unveiled an extensive rebranding this offseason that included new colors, logos, caps, and jerseys, all of which will be commenced during this matchup. The proceeds for ticket sales for this game will benefit Norfolk State’s baseball program.
The remaining minors vs. college exhibitions will take place on March 6, the day before Opening Day in the minors. At Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark, the Stockton Ports (High A; California League) will host the San Francisco State Gators. The game will offer free admission for Ports’ season ticket holders, and $6 reserved seating.
Rounding out the list is the Crosstown Showdown, an annual meeting between the Lansing Lugnuts (Low A; Midwest League) and the Michigan State Spartans. At times these squads have shared Cooley Law School Stadium, and while the Spartans now play most of their games at McLane Stadium, this annual visit to the minor-league ballpark has been a major tradition. The first exhibition game between these two teams was played in 2007, and it has always been a popular draw. Last year, the game attracted close to 4,900 fans despite rainy weather conditions.
This year’s contest will give fans a first look at some of the changes to the area surrounding Cooley Law School Stadium. An apartment building has been constructed behind the outfield wall, and is expected to open this spring.
Any chance to get back to the ballpark is worth a shot, but these minor league vs. college games provide a chance to see two levels of baseball and embrace some local ties.