Following Minors Just Keep Getting Better

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Opening Day is always a special time, but I can't imagine there has ever been a better time to be a baseball fan than 2011.

You can read about the hoopla that surrounded the professional debut of Bryce Harper, and it's interesting that the hoopla was more in the baseball world at large than in Rome, Ga., where he actually played. Minor league baseball is still intensely local—perhaps more so than any other professional sport—but with each passing season it becomes easier to follow the minor leagues from wherever you are.

I remember when debuted in 2001, the fact that we were able to bring people box scores from any minor league game the very next day was revolutionary for most fans. Before that, I don't guess there was any way to see minor league box scores on a day to day basis, and it was only when we published the minor league statistics every two weeks that you could get a global view of what was going on.

Just a decade later, publishing statistics and Opening Day rosters on paper seems almost pointless—I said "almost;" don't worry, the rosters are still in the print magazine as are stats—as you can go online and find out what's going on in the minor leagues at any particular moment, at a variety of sites.

The advance that blew my mind this year was I realize this isn't completely new, but this is the first year I took the plunge on the complete package. is amazing enough, but this April there I was, sitting at home one night in North Carolina and watching Mariners prospect Dustin Ackley at bat as Tacoma visited Fresno in a Triple-A Pacific Coast League game. I'm sorry, but that's amazing, even before we get into the fact that I can now watch baseball on my computer, my phone, my iPad . . .

Minor Leagues Still A Bargain

Maybe because it was tax time I was paying extra close attention this year, but we also shouldn't ignore the fact that going to a minor league baseball game is one of the best deals in entertainment.

Minor League Baseball surveys each of its domestic clubs at the outset of every season, getting ticket prices and prices of concession and other items as well. If you go to any major league sporting event, you know the ticket prices are steep, but you also know they price the concession as if you're eating in an airport or some alternate universe where money actually does grow on trees. (And don't get me started on paying to park your car.) I've never quite understood how they get away with this, but I guess people keep paying it so they'll keep cranking up the prices. I mean, there really should be no such thing as a $10 beer, but you can find such things at an arena near you.

That's one of the reasons it's heartening to go to a minor league ballpark—you feel like you are getting away from the workaday world, but still with a foot in reality. So it's no surprise that the official minor league survey once again showed that going to a game is one of the more affordable forms of entertainment, especially for families. The average cost for a family of four (two adult tickets, two child tickets, four hot dogs, two sodas, two beers, a program or scorecard and parking) to attend a minor league game this season is $59.77.

Sixty bucks is nothing to sneeze at, but I happen to have a family of four and know that any night out that involves eating at a restaurant nicer than McDonald's and finding some form of entertainment afterward is going to be well north of that number.

And you can do better than that number if you work at it hard. Working at Baseball America is handy, because you get into almost any game for free, but barring that many clubs do not charge for parking; you can find cheap bleacher or berm seating in a lot of parks; and you can often find special ticket prices for senior citizens, students and military personnel; and on many weeknights teams have started featuring concessions specials.

"Minor League Baseball continues to lead the way in providing affordable family entertainment across America," Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said. "In this day and age to entertain an entire family at these prices, in the quality stadiums in which we play, is a true value. Our ability to maintain an affordable price point in large part drives our success. I am proud of our Minor League Baseball teams and their commitment to affordable pricing for our great fans."