This is just one installment of 37 Things a Man's Gotta Do This Summer, our annual compendium of everything worth seeing, doing, eating, drinking and generally making time for in your neck of the woods between now and September.
Four months after retiring from the NBA (the first time), as rumors of an out-of-control gambling habit swirled around the Windy City, Michael Jordan inked a deal with the Chicago White Sox and played the 1994 season for their Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham Barons.
Although Jordan only hit .202 with three home runs in 127 games (he did have 30 stolen bases and 50 RBI), his time in the minors served a far more important purpose than helping the Barons win games: it saved his basketball career.
Playing minor league ball gave Jordan a way to take a short break from the rigors of being, well, His Airness, and let him honor his late father, who’d always wanted his son to play baseball. After the season, a reinvigorated Jordan returned to the NBA and went on to win three more titles.
Point being: if injecting some minor league ball into his life could help the greatest basketball player in history get better at what he did best, think what it could do for you.
Not convinced? Here are five more reasons to hit up your local minor-league park this summer.
The food could give your State Fair a run for its money
From the Hawaiian Pulled Pork Tacos in Houston to Philly's The Schmitter (steak, salami, cheese, fried onions and a secret sauce) to Baltimore's Crab Chipper (nachos with kettle chips and lump crab), MLB ballparks have some outstanding food options. However, all of those options, as caloric as they might be, pale in comparison to the artery-clogging fare that’s dished up in the minors. We’d chronicle all the grease-filled options out there, but as the saying goes, a picture is worth 2,000 calories:
The marketing departments are staffed by geniuses
Like their big-league cousins, minor league teams are no strangers to handing out bobbleheads, T-shirts and other collectibles that have a date with a yard sale in their future. But in order to gets butts in seats, sometimes MiLB squads have to go the extra base with their promotions. Some examples include the Frisco RoughRiders (and plenty of other teams) offering up $1 beers for Thirsty Thursdays, the Portland Sea Dogs donning throwback jerseys and entering the diamond via a makeshift cornfield as part of a Field of Dreams tribute, the New Britain Rock Cats hosting a speed-dating night during a game and the Fort Myers Miracles handing out plastic ears in honor of "Mike Tyson Ear Night."
MiLB Hats (5 images)
The hats kick ass
Whether you’re a diehard fan or you root against them with the passions of 1,000 Bostonians, you’ve got to admit the Yankees logo is A) classic and B) makes for one hell of a hat. Unfortunately, it’s also about as played out as you can get. And — earth to Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets and Tigers fans — the Yankees aren’t the only franchise that is afflicted by this particular issue. Looking for a cool hat that no one else on the block will be rocking? Head to the team shop at your local minor league park and peep their wares — they’ll be some good‘ns. And, if by some chance you don’t find what you want in person, look here.
You'll gain a deeper appreciation for Bull Durham, Eastbound & Down and Brockmire
Personalities like Crash Davis, Kenny Powers and Jim Brockmire aren’t just conjured up out of thin air, they come from somewhere — and that somewhere is the world of minor league baseball. It’s a world of has-beens and never-will-bes, but also of guys who will go on to fulfill an ambition they’ve been dreaming about since childhood. That also means it's a breeding ground for hilarious characters — the red-faced manager, the obnoxious fan, the over-the-hill groupie — that must be seen to be appreciated. If someone hits a ball that soars out of the park while you’re there, just try not to hear Brockmire saying, “That ball can’t get buried in a Jewish cemetery, because it was tattooed!” as it leaves the yard. It’ll be harder than you think.
In case you didn’t know, failed NFL quarterback, sometimes ESPN pundit and Aaron Hernandez murder preventer Tim Tebow is a farmhand for the New York Mets now. And as it turns out — since he has to throw substantially less — the former Heisman Trophy winner might end up being better at pro baseball than he is at pro football. Through mid-May, Tebow had hit .250 in 28 games for the Single-A Columbia Fireflies, collecting two dingers, nine walks and 29 strikeouts along the way. Though not spectacular, Tebow’s progress has been steady, so much so that the Mets are rumored to be thinking about promoting him to Double-A ball by the middle of the summer. We doubt Tebow is ever going to sniff an NFL field again, so if you have any interest in seeing a guy who — love him or hate him — was a once-in-a-generation talent take the field, it’s gonna have to be in a minor league ballpark.
Unless he makes the majors, which — considering the forces Tebow has in his corner — certainly seems like an outside possibility.
Tim Tebow image courtesy of Christian Petersen/Staff