OMAHA, NE - JUNE 27: General view of the exterior of Rosenblatt Stadium before the men's 2010 NCAA College Baseball World Series between the UCLA Bruins and the South Carolina Gamecocks on June 27, 2010 in Omaha, Nebraska. This is the final season the College World Series will be held at Rosenblatt Stadium. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Every now and then baseball fans take team or fan-base loyalty for granted. Also lack thereof, in many respects. We're quick to criticize fans who fail to show up to the park but applaud those who do. If there's one thing we never think about its the loyalty, passion and devotion of baseball fans who do not have an MLB team in their hometown. There are only thirty cities in the U.S. that host a Major League ball-club against two-hundred-and-thirty-four that posses a minor league team along with many others that either boast an Indy League team, used to claim home of a pro team or have additional importance such as say, Cooperstown. (UPDATE: As our very own Lewis Pollis points out, there are only 24 MLB cities, not 30. There are 24 media markets in only 17 states. So that makes things even more favorable for the non-MLB cities.)
Baseball fans are baseball fans therefore it's unfair to judge fan loyalty based on ballpark size or level of your home team's affiliate. Heck, people don't own a city, they just live in one. Something has been on mind for quite some time. I've spent the summer's entirety around Minor League and Independent League Baseball wondering where America's best baseball city is located, excluding those that boast Major League teams. So let's take a look, shall we?
Aside from breathtaking Kansas City Royals prospects, Omaha is home of the college world series. Billings, Montana is consists of America's most popular Minor League team (at least according to the recent awards given to the Billings Mustangs) and Durham, North Carolina has constantly been a staple in professional baseball, especially considering a famous baseball movie was named in it's honor. All in all, the levels of prominence within these three cities range back decades and even centuries of their respective traditions. In addition, they continue to represent a baseball centralization. In other words, a home for the fans.
Of course, this would be unfairly excluding over one-hundred cities, cities that consist of fans who spend day after day at the ballpark with a prudential and unexplainable love for their team. He would say no one else in the world could possibly love their team more than he and she would say exactly the same thing, but regardless of the thoughts of fans some cities are just truly better than others. And I think it's funny, because somehow and someway the landscaping of Minor League Baseball netted the 30th-60th most popular cities with a Triple-A team. Or quite possibly the Triple-A team got popularized by simply being the 2nd highest level of professional baseball. From my experiences, half of teams attendees have the slightest idea of not just the level, but who's playing who. In fact, I was at a Hudson Valley Renegades game sitting near a family whose child thought the game was in Chicago.
It's often fun to wonder where, if anywhere, the "31st Major League Franchise" would locate to. But others such as myself try to picture one of baseball's Triple-A cities turning in to a Major League one and then go from there. Perennially, Omaha and Durham rack up a nearly uncountable amount of fans yearly, but mostly because of tradition and devotion. A case could also be made for those hearty Triple-A cities' popularity due to the lack of other professional sports franchises in the area. For instance, the closest Football team to Durham would be the Carolina Panthers and Omaha, well probably the Chicago Bears or Kansas City Chiefs.
It's also worth keeping in mind the additional distractions that each and every city provides. Take the beautiful beaches, cruise ships, weather and what have you in the great state of Florida for instance. Those are primarily the reasons why Florida attracts no minor league fans. And that's exactly why there isn't a Triple-A team there. Same thing goes with New York City. Territorial rights play a factor, but most New Yorkers would rather be watching their Bronx Bombers or New York Mets than the "Manhattan _______'s" of the International League (just go along with it!). Of course, this isn't saying Omaha or Durham are the two most flawless cities in all the land, but they at least have proved to be the heart and soul of non-Major League Baseball.
As I mentioned earlier, the design and landscaping of professional baseball couldn't have been thought out more perfectly. Sure, maybe fans in Florida have no intentions of watching Minor League Baseball, or even Major League Baseball for that matter. But for every empty ballpark you get a filled one throughout all 72 home games (in a Minor League season). A majority of Minor League cities don't not only have just one sports team to root for, but some cities aren't even "cities," and at times lack much else to do. One of the parks I've spent a favorable amount of time around are the Vermont Lake Monsters. Aside from going to the movies, hanging out with friends, shopping or watching your kid's middle school team play, the Lake Monsters and UVM Athletics are all those people have in Burlington. For some fans, it typically doesn't make a difference whether the Omaha Storm Chasers are hosting the Sacramento River Cats or if the College World Series is in it's final game. You get used to baseball being played at one of the highest echelon's day after day, and almost never get sick of it. But like most Major League fans, you at times take it for granted.