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Brian Woodson 

It’s safe to say Bill Craib loves baseball.

He visited all 178 professional baseball stadiums in 1991, and then returned to the road, going to all the minor league stadiums in 2003.

You might think his son would share that same love for the game.

You would be wrong.

“That is a funny thing. I have one son who is 12 and he could not be less interested in baseball,” said Craib, who is producing a collection of videos on that trip from 1991 that can be found by visiting findamerica.org/lmt2020 or by typing in Low Mileage Tour on YouTube.

“I have to drag him in to watch these videos with me every night. At least I have to make my wife and him watch it so they watch it, but he is not a big baseball fan,” added Craib, who does have a nephew who lives in Washington and is a fan of the Nationals. “I am afraid that generation is not destined to necessarily be baseball fans, which I find sad.”

Very sad.

It seems like I spend way too much time expressing my dismay with baseball in these pages, but they’re an easy target. I love the game, always have, much like Craib, but it just seems like they deserve to be a punching bag for their head-scratching ways.

It was sad enough they couldn’t put aside their financial differences during a pandemic to play baseball - which is finally going to happen only because the commissioner set a number of games and a date to start – but there are around 42 minor league clubs targeted for contraction at the end of this season that will never get a chance to say goodbye.

This season was expected to be their final hurrah, but the coronavirus ruined those chances.

Nine of the 10 Appalachian League teams are on that list to be gone forever. Only Pulaski will survive, having put millions into renovations in a facility that is the oldest in a league full of old.

Some of those facilities will sit empty in the summer, much like they are now, or they could field travel ball teams or college wooden bat leagues, such as what Martinsville has had for the last two decades since minor league baseball left there.

“I think it is very sad, to be honest,” Craib said. “I think it is shortsighted. Leagues like the Coastal Plains League are great. I think they can be lots of fun.

“You look at team like Martinsville, they have had the Coastal Plains League there 15 or 20 years now. I am sure people turn out for the games just like they did for the Martinsville Phillies and the Martinsville Astros.”

It just isn’t the same.

“If minor league baseball leaves the little towns of the Appy League, then I am sure some other semi-pro team or college type summer league team will end up coming in,” Craib said. “The difference is thse are future stars.

“For a kid in Pulaski, Virginia or Burlington, North Carolina or Bristol, Virginia to grow up watching the Burlington program today, like Manny Ramirez, who is going to go on and hit 555 home runs in the major leagues.”

Don’t expect that to be the case in the future. True, one of those college kids might become a big leaguer in the future, but don’t count it. At least with minor league baseball, there was a chance someone on that field was going to get there.

That was part of the allure to get fans, and especially kids, to the games.

“To see that connection is what makes baseball fans. Without that, I think the problem major league baseball already has is an aging fan base which is just going to continue to accelerate,” Craib said. “Without the connections of towns like the 42 that are being considered for contraction, most of which are in small towns, I wonder where the future fans of major league baseball are going to come from. I think it is incredibly sad.”

It’s often been said that children are our future, and they are. That includes raising them to be baseball fans. If there is nothing to draw them to the game now, how are they going to become connected as adults. If they have no interest in the game, their kids probably won’t either.

It is a process, and slowly the baseball fan is disappearing. Attendance and ratings have been plummeting for the sport over the last decade, and it wasn’t getting any better before the coronavirus delayed the 2020 season.

Add to that a possible strike after next season when the certain collective bargaining agreement runs out, and baseball is in serious trouble.

Losing out on the Appalachian League and other minor league teams isn’t helping the cause.

“They watch kids that are playing and these are people you can get autographs from and watch from 30 feet away and then they watch them progress up and they say, ‘Hey, I saw that guy when I was a kid in Bristol, Virginia and they follow them the rest of their life,” Craib said. “Without that connection, people aren’t going to tune in anymore.

“Baseball is played in big cities late at night, it is not connected to most of America anymore, I don’t think.”

Now that is sad.

bwoodson@bristolnews.com | Twitter: BHCWoodson | (276) 645-2543

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