Frontier League Baseball: Life In The Low Minors
The Frontier League offers baseball players without big league affiliation to play pro baseball. Here's a look at this successful Midwestern independent league.
Minor league baseball began a rennaissance in the late 1980s. Fans frustrated by higher prices at big league parks and the increasing emotional distance between players and their fans began flocking to see tomorrow's stars in a more humble atmosphere.
In 1993, another offshoot of the minor league phenomenon took hold in the Midwest. Baseball fans and businessmen formed the Frontier League, a group of smaller cities who had ballparks but no teams. The league's teams would have no relationship with any level of major league baseball.
The league struggled in the beginning, adding new teams while losing a few others. However, the concept had taken hold and with a few strong franchises to bolster it, the Frontier League would prosper like few other independent leagues before it. By the late 1990s, cities like O'Fallon, IL, a suburb of St. Louis, were building new parks to house their teams and drawing huge crowds. The Rascals own the league attendance record, having seen a one-year total of 151,000 fans pour through the turnstiles for cheap tickets, cold and reasonably priced beverages and the chance to be close to the action.
By the year 2000, the league held a stable organization of ten teams: London, Ontario; Chillicothe, Ohio; Canton, OH, Johnstown, PA and Richmond, IN in the East Division and Springfield, IL, Evansville, IN, Cook County, IL, River City, and DuBois Co, IN. The teams travel by bus, as is customary in the lower minors. The players are paid only a few hundred dollars a month, cutting costs by rooming with area "host families" or sharing apartments.
They are a long way from the major leagues; even a good hike from the affiliated minor league teams. But the dream lives on and the league's success has attracted scouts from pro teams looking to find that missed diamond in the rough.
Success stories do exist. J.J. Trujillo, who played with Johnstown in the late 90s, was signed by the San Diego Padres organization and is now one of the best pitchers in all of minor league baseball with the Ft. Wayne Wizards.
The Frontier League all-star game, held each July, attracts many scouts who want to get a look at the league's top-notch players. But the real appeal of this league is that it harkens back to a simpler era in baseball, when a fan could enjoy a game, bring the family and not have to take out a loan to do it!