“Our game, besides being a national pastime, is a social institution with social responsibilities that include responding to an unimaginable crisis such as this in a timely and significant manner.” ~ Bud Selig, Commissioner of Baseball, September 2001
For the past week or so, there have been numerous articles written about “the healing power of sport” and the “healing power of baseball.” MLB.com and other news outlets are paying tribute to the events of September 11, 2001, in a variety of ways. (I won’t repeat those here, but have included several links.) What many such articles have neglected to include is the role of Minor League Baseball at the time.
I have always been interested in the response of minor league baseball in times of crisis. Situated in both small and large towns throughout the United States and Canada, Minor League Baseball (MiLB), perhaps more than Major League Baseball, has a close relationship with the communities in which they play. They represent Selig’s “social institution” at the local level. Each year MiLB and MiLB teams donate more than $9 billion to local and national charities. According to the MiLB website: “Support and participation in charities has helped The Minor Leagues establish a strong presence and active role in communities across the United States and Canada.” Here are just some examples of Minor League Baseball lending a helping hand in recent years:
In May 2011, when tornadoes and flooding devastated parts of the southeastern United States, the MiLB Charities Association and 50 minor league clubs joined together to lend assistance. Between May 16 and May 30, MiLB donated 15% of all online sales to the effort. By August, $60,000 had been collected and was presented to organizations selected by the Hunstville Stars, Birmingham Barons, and Memphis Redbirds.
When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the MiLB season was just winding down. Nonetheless, MiLB instructed its members to work with the Red Cross and use their ballparks as collection locations. Teams quickly mobilized to assist in relief efforts. The Pacific Coast League, for example, collected $200,000 worth of cash and goods in their communities. The Iowa Cubs, who evacuated New Orleans ahead of the storm along with the New Orleans Zephyrs, collected almost $30,000 for the relief efforts through silent auctions and cash donations. The Oklahoma Redhawks, who hosted the Zephyrs the day after the hurricane hit, collected 75,000 water bottles and shipped them to Baton Rouge.
And, of course, there was an overwhelming MiLB response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. For example: On September 13, 2001, the Brooklyn Cyclones announced that fans could donate refunds for cancelled NY-Penn League Championship games to a relief fund for families and victims of the terrorist attacks. The next day, the Rochester Red Wings gave away 1,000 miniature American flags to people who stopped by the team’s offices, and also collected donations to assist American Red Cross efforts in Washington, DC, and New York City. That night, the Durham Bulls held a candlelight vigil and along with local media kicked-off a “Relief for America” campaign which collected over $500,000 in two days.
There are countless other examples from that tragedy and other disasters. The participation of Minor League Baseball and other community organizations is crucial in times of crisis. They act as places of refuge and agents of assistance. They have the power and resources – and the responsibility? – to organize a response from the members of the community and assist in the healing process.