The appeal of minor league ball

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Remember Rod Beck? The MLB closer with the long hair, moustache and the right arm that swung like a pendulum before every pitch?

I found him. In Iowa. In May. In the seventh inning of an Iowa Cubs and Omaha Royals Triple AAA baseball game.

I didn't recognize him, but the stare toward home was familiar, so I asked who was on the mound.

"Oh, that's Rod Beck," my friend said.

"What?" I yelled.

I remember Beck saving 51 games for the Chicago Cubs in 1998, before moving to Boston and having "Tommy John" surgery in 2001.

He's bald, but he's back, playing on a handshake contract in Des Moines until a major league team signs him and his 85 mph fastball.

Meanwhile, Iowans are loving it, calling him Shooter.

Apparently, one can pick up a nickname when he lives in a Winnebago behind the outfield wall and hands out complimentary beer after the game.

But it isn't just Beck's "celebrity" status and post-game parties that draw fans to Sec Taylor Stadium. It's Beck's approachability and appreciation for baseball and its fans that make people come.

And that is the appeal of minor league baseball.

Unlike Major League Baseball, the minor leagues market their players.

People can stand, glove in hand, and smile on face, eight rows behind the dugout without ushers throwing a fit.

When someone yells out a name from eight rows up between pitches in a stadium that holds fewer than 10,000 people, that person is going to hear it.

In the major leagues, it's usually some obnoxious middle-aged man cursing the umpires, the players or the Yankees.

In the minor leagues, it's the kids cheering for their favorite player, even if he strikes out.

Kids love baseball. Little League is still one of the most popular summer activities, even in Steamboat Springs, where portable mounds usually have to be put on fields to play the game.

But somewhere between riding a bike to practice with the glove on the handlebar and high school, people lose their love for baseball.

I think the minor leagues can rekindle it. I've seen it, not just with the Cubs in Des Moines, but with the Sky Sox in Colorado Springs, as well.

Once you get past all the sign-up-for-a-credit-card-get-a-free-T-shirt people at the gate, it's a blast. Tickets are cheap. The seats are great, and the baseball is pretty good, too.

With today's scouting reports, it's easy to find a team's top prospects. Follow those players and when one of them makes it to the next level, you might want to watch a major league game a little bit more.

Baseball purists say appreciation for the sport will never die. It probably won't, but it's certainly not thriving, either.

What baseball has is a proven minor league system.

Market that.

Many knew of Beck before his stint in the minors, but now many in Iowa know him and are more likely to follow his career -- wherever it goes.

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