A minor tradition.

I worry about the trainers.

As we start the 2021 baseball season, Minor League Baseball is now firmly under the control of Major League Baseball. This has already brought about significant change.

A few low-level minor leagues – like my sentimental favorite, the Class A New York-Penn League – have been folded entirely. The others have had their time-honored names stripped from them, rearranged and rebranded with bland, waiting-for-sponsors titles. For instance, the century-plus of heritage behind the International League name has been discarded in favor of “Triple-A East.” Minor-league teams are now “licensed affiliates” who make a point to announce that their schedules have been provided by MLB.

It feels to this lifelong minor-league fan like any vestige of the old MiLB could be ripe for elimination, if it doesn’t make MLB money or burnish the parent organization’s brand in some way.

And one of the purest manifestations of the old MiLB is the trainer’s card.

Big-league sets don’t include trainer’s cards; you don’t find them in St. Louis or Los Angeles. (The best a big-league trainer could typically hope for, card-wise, was to appear as a small, golf-shirted dot on the fringes of the team picture.)

Instead, you find trainer cards in Wausau and Pawtucket, in minor-league card sets, adding bulk to the team set alongside the mascot, the stadium, the general manager, the owner, or occasionally even the chaplain. (He bats and throws righty!)

They’re not tremendously sexy cards, from a design standpoint, and they’re certainly not the most sought-after. If you were to sweep through a minor-league ballpark at the end of Team Set Giveaway Day, you’d probably find at least a couple of trainer cards, cast aside by kids whose solitary interest lies with uniformed on-field personnel.

Still, these cards are a tradition in many minor-league sets. And they serve a purpose, beyond filling out a set. They provide some small token of recognition to men and women whose work is necessary, even crucial, but unglamorous and almost certainly not lucrative.

These people work hard to keep the minor-league armies marching. They deserve these tips of the cap – whether they carry the old-fashioned title of Trainer, or newfangled, health-related handles like Strength and Conditioning Coach or Physical Fitness Coordinator.

I have no difficulty imagining a future in which MLB brings all minor-league card production into a central operation and discards the trainer card. They’ve junked bigger traditions, after all. Plus, trainer cards always have a touch of the podunk about them – and MLB isn’t in the podunk business.

It certainly won’t kill anybody if they do that, but it will be a loss, just as the New York-Penn League is a loss. It will be one less homespun touch, one less glimpse behind the polished facade.

Of course, the pendulum could swing the other way. With interest in cards at an almost absurd high, maybe MLB will want to churn out cardboard on anybody they can think to photograph. Trainers? Groundskeepers? Racing mascots?  That self-appointed superfan in face paint who makes an annoyance of himself blowing a vuvuzela and is thisclose to being banned at the beer kiosks? Bring ‘em all on; someone can be convinced to buy.

If we get trainer cards in chrome or refractor style, with multiple color variants, I might just be convinced to love the brave new world.

8 thoughts on “A minor tradition.”

  1. I see minor league sets going by way of the slide rule. I’m happy with the many Phoenix sets I have—they evoke memories of me and my kids getting them and the kids getting some of the cards willing signed by players without huge egos. God bye Do Do bird 😦 The minors will become a (minor) profit center for the bigs.

    Attend few BL games anymore and when I do I purchase tickets (at discount) at first pitch from the sellers on the street. Have not bought a “at window” DBacks seat in over a dozen years. Baseball is pricing itself out of the 90% market

    Bill Klink
    Arizona

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  2. I have long come to the conclusion that going to minor league games is much more enjoyable that going to their big league counterparts. In the summer of 2017, I attended over 50 minor league games in 50 different ballparks, including the entire Atlantic, Eastern, and New York-Penn Leagues.

    Finding old minor league sets for a super collector friend was one of my goals. I always asked if there were any available that were not out on the retail floor. 95% of team store workers and fan assistance booth attendants couldn’t be nicer. I asked about magnet and pocket schedules as well- it was amazing how often people went out of their way for me.

    The other item I always looked for was a mini ice cream helmet. And I have the waistline to prove how successful the endeavor was. Not sure why I was so hellbent on getting them, but I felt a sense of disappointment whenever I struck out.

    Those team sets sitting at the gift shop, with the aforementioned trainer cards, are not only a part of what makes the experience fun, but they help the fan feel a personal, intimate connection to the game and players at hand- just as much as a seat right behind home plate.

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    1. Thank you for the correction! I should have known that there have been big-league sets out there over the course of history that have included the trainer.

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  3. In the late 1980s one of the St. Lucie Mets minor league sets included a card of Steve Yavner, a local sports reporter (he may have been based out of West Palm Beach, which was local enough). Being on TV regularly, he was almost certainly more famous than the minor league players themselves, so getting his autograph was as big a thrill as getting a minor leaguer. He was listed as: Bats, right; Throws, wrong.

    Apparently he now has a PhD in journalism from NYU. He may be the only person with a PhD whose autograph I have on a baseball card.

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  4. Like you and others who’ve commented, the stripping away of the long-time names of the leagues just infuriates me. There was no need for it
    . No more New York-Penn, no more Sally, no more Eastern League. Heck, no more Trenton, no more Staten Island. I’ll continue to prize my Thunder sets with the likes of Judge, Sanchez and Severino, in any case. No thanks to Manfred and company.

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