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Stefan Vilcins: A baseball fan's uneven state of mind

Stefan Vilcins
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It was a beautiful day for baseball. On a recent July evening, my 9-year-old son Henry and I were enjoying a Honkers game against their Northwoods League rival, the Mankato Moondogs. A warm summer breeze, a hot dog with relish, the sounds of the crowd. How perfect.

Well, almost perfect. We were there for Henry’s friend’s birthday party and there were about a dozen or so somewhat restless 10-year-olds in our group as well. To my dismay, some of them were already into their third cup of Dippin' Dots by the third inning, others on their second Mountain Dew. Soon after, one of them started wildly swinging back and forth on a mezzanine railing above the third base entry tunnel. Another decided to start pouring root beer into a bag of Cheetos. I was going to need a break.

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Desperately seeking refuge by the top of the fourth, I started frantically paging through the free Honkers program as a quick escape, which included, among other things, the team roster. In it, I saw something surprising.

Expecting to mostly see players from Midwest states, like Minnesota, Wisconsin, maybe Iowa or Illinois, I noticed most of the Honkers were instead from faraway places, like Texas, New Jersey, and California. Especially California.

In fact, of the 29 players listed on the Honkers roster, only three — Hanson, Mammenga and Ritzer — were actually from Minnesota. Two players were from Missouri, one was from South Dakota. California? They had 11 players on the roster — over a third of the team!

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Was this typical, I wondered, or just a one-time West Coast bias?

The following day, I consulted baseball-almanac.com for some guidance on this. Currently in Major League Baseball, there are 953 players across 30 teams. Of these, 212 are from California, nearly a quarter of all MLB players just from California alone. If you include a few other warm-weather states, like Florida, Texas and Georgia, you'd have nearly half of all major leaguers!

But then I thought, “Well these are also very large states. Maybe they’re just producing as many players as they should, given their size.” Quite the contrary, it turns out. In fact, each of these states produce a disproportionately high number of players, with California leading the way. Despite being 11.9% of the U.S. population, California produces almost twice as many MLB players as they should (22.2% of MLB). Florida and Texas also produce more than their fair share — about 1.3 times as many, to be exact.

"Well that’s not fair," I thought. How are places like Minnesota supposed to compete with places like California when they have twice as many warm weather months for things like Little League games and pitching camps and boogie boarding?

I wondered if there were other states that took such shameless advantage of their specialized climate to unfairly dominate in specific sports.

A recent article in the Star Tribune seemed to indirectly suggest one, but we’d have to switch to cold weather for this example.

According to the Tribune, in the history of the Winter Olympics, Minnesotans have won 103 medals since 1924. And according to Wikipedia, that’s out of USA’s total of 720. That’s 14% of America’s medals, despite being only 1.7% of the U.S. population. In other words, that’s nearly eight times as many Olympic medals as Minnesotans should have won, given our state’s size.

Take that, California. 

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As for the conclusion of the Honkers-Moondogs game? Before the kids’ sugar crash kicked in, they led the Mayo Field crowd to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and the Honkers nearly completed a late-game miracle comeback from an 11-0 deficit.   

It turned out to be fun at the old ballpark as always, whatever state we were each coming from.

Stefan Vilcins lives in Rochester with his 9-year-old son and is a former freelance writer. 

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