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13 reasons we're excited for MiLB Opening Day

Prospects, pigs and celery: Staffers share their specific ballpark joys
March 30, 2023

If you're anything like us, you're excited the Minor League Baseball season is finally here. And if you're not excited, maybe it's time to rethink that position. The joys of Minor League Baseball are many and varied, a veritable "choose your own adventure" when it comes to the ways in

If you're anything like us, you're excited the Minor League Baseball season is finally here. And if you're not excited, maybe it's time to rethink that position. The joys of Minor League Baseball are many and varied, a veritable "choose your own adventure" when it comes to the ways in which its myriad thrills can be prioritized.

So, why are we excited for Minor League Baseball? Read on, as a diverse roster of and MLB Pipeline writers and editors provide their specific reasons why.

Because bat dogs are the real superheroes
The best show in Sin City isn’t on the strip, it’s at Las Vegas Ballpark, where Finn and Lambo serve as the Triple-A Aviators' bat dog duo. Finn, a black Labrador retriever, has starred in the role since the 2016 season and his sister, Lambo (a chocolate Lab), began working alongside him last season. The pair split bat dog responsibilities: retrieving the bats, bringing water to the umpires and providing no shortage of entertainment for the crowd. They appear over the first three innings of every home game, and for those who may be wondering, have not been affected by the pitch clock. -- Rob Terranova

Because the St. Paul Saints have an actual pig at their games
In the Minors, innovation is the name of the game. (Well, besides baseball.) Bat dogs are already a fun twist on a classic on-field position, but Triple-A St. Paul takes this a step further with an on-field pig. Since 1993, piglets have been bringing baseballs and refreshments to umpires at Saints games. The team's ballpark pig in 2022 was 867-530Swine -- he gets his name from the classic '80s Tommy Tutone song "867-5309/Jenny" -- but he retired at the conclusion of the season. Two new oinkers are now set to take the stage, one for each half of the season, because even our four-legged friends need an innings limit to stay sharp. -- Kelsie Heneghan

Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Draft, is ready to turn heads in 2023.Caitlin Buckley/

Because the journey begins here
I love watching players embark on their professional careers. Sure, many members of the 2022 Draft class played last summer, but that first full season is when they really get a sense of the grind, of what they need to do in order to climb the ladder and reach the big leagues. The Class of ’22 has some serious upside players and I can’t wait to see how guys like Baltimore's Jackson Holliday (have to mention the No. 1 pick, right?), Druw Jones (AZ), Termarr Johnson (PIT) and Elijah Green (WSH) can do! Will they start turning their potential into performance right out of the gate? -- Jonathan Mayo

Because Oregon’s exploding whale will finally be honored
It’s a video that some of you may have never seen, some of you might come across once a year and think, “Oh yeah, this thing,” or, like me, a clip you think about almost every hour of every day: Oregon’s exploding whale.
Well, the High-A Eugene Emeralds, located about 50 miles from Florence (the town where the whale exploded), will honor the long-dead, long blown-up sea mammal this season. The players will wear themed jerseys, there is merch and who knows, maybe a whale will show up? Hopefully it doesn’t explode. You’ll have to attend on either April 22, May 6, May 26 or Aug. 19 to find out. -- Matt Monagan

Because ice-cream helmets can wait … until they absolutely can’t
Around the fourth inning at Triple-A Worcester's Polar Park last July, my nephew, Liam, experiencing his first Minor League game, saw someone eating out of an ice-cream helmet, tugged on my sleeve and asked if he could get one too. “One more inning,” I said. The fourth became the fifth and the fifth became the sixth, and the more he watched fastballs and extra-base hits, the less he asked for ice cream … until he realized how many outs had passed. So he got his helmet, high-fived a mascot along the way and settled in for the seventh. We played catch and raced each other on the outfield grass afterward because, well, we had lots of soft serve to burn off. Here’s to many more helmets in 2023. -- Sam Dykstra

Because the longest-reigning sports organist of all time is still tickling the keys
When Triple-A Rochester’s players head out to their positions at Innovative Field, they do so to the jaunty rhythms of Fred Costello’s team theme song, “Here come the Red Wings.” Costello’s musical contributions don’t end there, and he is entering his 47th season as the Red Wings organist. No one in professional sports history has played the organ for one team for a longer period of time, making Costello an icon not just in Rochester but in all of Minor League Baseball. His jazz and funk-inflected vamps enliven the gameday experience, providing a sense of familiarity that stands in stark contrast to the usual aural onslaught of Top 40 hits. Long may he reign. -- Benjamin Hill

Elly De La Cruz is the top-ranked prospect in the Reds' organization.Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Because transcendent talent is always worth your attention
They’re not the top two prospects in the Minors. They’re definitely not the two guys who will arrive in the big leagues soonest. But Cincinnati's Elly De La Cruz and Milwaukee's Jackson Chourio are as exciting as anybody in baseball at any level. Either one could do something, or several things, absolutely spectacular in any given game – not just at the plate. And chances are we’ll get to watch both of them in the Minors all year long. -- Matthew Leach

Jackson Chourio is ready to build on his electrifying 2022 campaign.Neal Hock/Carolina Mudcats

Because you never know who will break through
I'm always excited for the Minor League season to start. Each year, I can't wait to find out how the next step for prospect upon prospect will unfold. Can Brewers outfielder Jackson Chourio take his game to another level after being the biggest breakout performer of 2022? Will Orioles shortstop Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's Draft, become baseball's best prospect in his first full season? How long will it take Marlins right-hander Eury Pérez to make his big league debut after he turns 20 in mid-April? How will tooled-up Giants outfielder Vaun Brown perform against age-appropriate competition? I could go on... -- Jim Callis

Because we need a Sea Dogs Biscuit
Summers in Maine are storybook stuff. There are brochures I could send you. But here -- as anywhere -- a perfect day would have to end with a night at the ballpark, which would involve a novelty ice cream treat. None beat the blissful simplicity of a Sea Dogs Biscuit, with locally made vanilla ice cream between chocolate chip cookies precision-crafted for the task of maintaining the sandwich’s structural integrity on a hot night in Double-A Portland. But my first Sea Dogs Biscuit of 2022, although enjoyable, seemed a little off. My second was downright mysterious. It turned out supply-chain issues had forced the team to go with substitutes. Here’s to the 2023 season and perfect summer days to come. -- Josh Jackson

Because an emotional reunion may be imminent
I am the biggest sucker for Minor League military homecomings videos. I tear up watching them every … single … time. One of the rare times in baseball in which affiliation just does not matter. The homecomings always start innocuously enough. A family member is throwing out the first pitch or participating in a between-innings contest or family and friends are watching a message they think was recorded overseas. And from out of nowhere emerges a man or woman who has served this country in the military. That person gets to hug his or her loved ones for the first time in a long while to raucous applause from fans in attendance. It’s just perfect that it happens as part of our national pastime. I haven’t had a good happy cry since last season, and can’t wait to see which team makes me bawl first. I’m counting on seeing one in person this year. -- Paige Schector

"Big" Joe Davis became a cult hero while playing for the Greenville Drive and a bobblehead afterward.

Because small-town heroes become enduring legends
They will never be household names. Barring the most remarkable string of luck and Forrest Gump-esque ability to be present for all of the most world-shattering events, they’ll never be in the Hall of Fame. But for some of the small towns with Minor League clubs, these players will be legends. Perhaps they’ll be like last year’s star, the now-retired Big Joe Davis. Sure, he never played for the Red Sox, but he made his mark with High-A Greenville by grilling his own sausages while living in a trailer near the stadium. Similarly, slugging folk hero Joe Baumann may never have found big league stardom, but now there’s a ballpark named after him in Roswell, New Mexico – where Joe also owned a gas station during his playing days. (Perhaps there’s a connection between Joes and being a Joe?) Perhaps they’ll gain fandom for their sick flow, the way Ryan Fitzgerald and his flow inspired the Woo Sox last year? Who knows? If the Minor Leagues are all about representing the place you’re from, the city you really live in and not the one that’s an hour-and-a-half train trip away, then it’s these future mayoral candidates who make it extra special. -- Michael Clair

Because that kid throws straight-up gas
This phrase takes on a new meaning at Minor League games, where the always-popular “speed pitch" booths draw in fans of all ages. Maybe throwing 100 mph heat isn’t in the cards for that 7-year-old, but he can always dream … and once that number pops up, it’s instant satisfaction! Boy or girl, old or young, it doesn’t matter. Step up, rear back and hurl that ball as fast as you can … just don’t sit around waiting for a contract offer. -- Michael Avallone

Because Mr. Celery is too awesome to explain
There are many things within Minor League Baseball culture that are defined … vaguely. You rarely ever get every answer to the who, what, where, when and why about anything. Like Mr. Celery. Identifying High-A Wilmington’s secondary mascot and his function is simple. But why? That’s a mystery for another veggie patch. It’s an urban legend of the Blue Rocks' own creation that’s literally taken on a life of its own. I really love it when everyone is in on the joke. And the Frawley Stadium faithful seem to be on the same page -- even to record-breaking proportions. -- Gerard Gilberto

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.