A little over a week ago, talking with a friend who now lives in Washington, DC, that same friend dedicated no small portion of our conversation to celebrating his proximity (by virtue of living in the aforementioned American city) to minor-league baseball — in this case, to the Bowie Baysox of the Double-A Eastern League, the Frederick Keys and Potomac Nationals of the High-A Carolina League, the Hagerstown Suns of the Low-A Sally League, and even the Aberdeen IronBirds of the short-season New York-Penn League.
Mentioning that same conversation to FanGraphs managing editor Dave Cameron a couple days afterward, he (i.e. Cameron) replied by suggesting that his present hometown of Winston-Salem — which features no fewer than eight minor-league teams within a 90-minute drive (depending on traffic, of course) — is perhaps the best place to live in the country were one’s sole ambition in life to attend minor-league baseball games.
Because it’s among my ambitions in life to fact check Cameron’s most dubious-sounding claims — and also because I was curious — I spent too much of the weekend attempting to assess which towns and cities offered access to the greatest number of minor leagues.
As a sort of informal way of measuring this, I assigned to those same towns and cities three points for every ballpark within a 30-minute drive (according to Google Maps), two points for every ballpark within 60 minutes, and a single point for a ballpark within 90 minutes — while awarding points for only one team (the closest) per minor league.*
So, for example, to Winston-Salem I assigned three points for the Winston-Salem Dash of the High-A Carolina League, two points for the Greensboro Grasshoppers of the Low-A Sally League (37 minutes away), one point for the Burlington Royals of the rookie-level Appalachian League (64 minutes), and another point for the Triple-A Durham Bulls (89 minutes!) — but not points for the Kannapolis Intimidators, for example, as, like Greensboro, they belong to the Sally League. Is it possible that the presence of an extra Sally League team in the general vicinity improves the experience of a baseball nerd living in Winston-Salem? Perhaps. But the marginal gains are small, I’d submit — and, more to the point, the prospect of measuring such a thing tested the will of the author.
In terms of criteria that were not considered in the creation of this list, “basically everything else” is the answer to that. So, for example, real estate prices: that’s not a criterion. Or unemployment rate: that’s not a criterion. Or weather. Or restaurants. Or schools.
With that said, here are the top-five metro areas for prospect nerds, as best I can tell. Note that all maps (which one can click for the purposes of embiggening) are from MiLB.com and presented on same scale, to avoid confusion. Drive times are courtesy Google Maps.
5. Southeast Suburbs, Cleveland
What an exercise like this one reveals is both that (a) it’s uncommon to find teams from two different minor leagues within an hour of each other and also that (b) it’s decidedly rare to find clubs from three different minor leagues all within the same general metro area. That’s why, even with just three teams, residents of the southeast Cleveland suburbs have considerably above-average access to minor-league baseball, with the Lake County Captains of the Class A Midwest League and Akron Aeros of the Double-A Eastern League both about a half hour’s away and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short-season New York-Penn League about an hour’s drive.
4. Philadelphia, Generally
Philadelphia isn’t very close to any particular minor-league ballpark, but it’s sort of close to a number of them, including: the Trenton Thunder of the Double-A Eastern League, Wilmington Blue Rocks of the High-A Carolina League, the Lakewood BlueClaws of the Low-A Sally League, the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and the Aberdeen IronBirds of the New York-Penn League.
3. South Suburbs, Boston
Living in the south suburbs of Boston gives one the advantage not only of being able to access both the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Double-A Eastern League) and Lowell Spinners (short-season New York-Penn League) north of the city and the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox south of the city, but also the Cape Cod League’s western-most team, the Wareham Gatemen, thereby giving the nerd the opportunity to see many of the country’s best college prospects, as well.
2. East Valley, Phoenix
The map here isn’t particularly well suited to telling the entire story so far as the baseball-related benefits of living in Greater Phoenix are concerned. Residents of the East Valley (Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe) have the opportunity to watch live baseball almost all year long, beginning in February with both spring training and Pac-12 baseball, proceeding to the Arizona Rookie League (to which many high-school first-round picks are assigned), and then culminating in the Arizona Fall League, which more or less features three Futures Games per day for a month and a half.
1. Along I-40, North Carolina
It appears as though Dave Cameron is more or less accurate with his suggestion that Winston-Salem is among the country’s better towns for the prospect nerd. I say “more or less” because actually somewhere east of Winston-Salem — between Burlington (home of the rookie-level Appy League Burlington Royals) and Durham (home of the Triple-A Durham Bulls) — would be most strategic. But anywhere along I-40 between Winston-Salem and Raleigh offers access not only to the two aforementioned team, but also the Greensboro Grasshoppers of the Low-A Sally League and one from the Carolina Mudcats and Winston-Salem Dash — both of the High-A Carolina League.