Press Box: Waiting Game

Waiting Game is a Minor Inconvenience

In the promotion-oriented world that is minor-league baseball, franchises will do anything to attract fans. They print up schedules months ahead of time to advertise their giveaways. The bobbleheads. The hats. The T-shirts. Sometimes, even a diamond in a postgame dig through the infield dirt. And, yee-haw, the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo may be available again. Oh, don’t forget to set off fireworks after every Friday night home game. Got game? Get a promotion to go with it.

It’s been this way in the minor leagues for years. Nothing is off limits. Well, almost nothing.

Teams in the minors rarely, if ever, promote the most obvious commodity – their players. Mostly because teams in the minors have zero control over the players assigned to them by their major-league affiliate.

The Class AA Harrisburg Senators are no different than any of the other 243 teams that comprise the minor leagues from Maine to California and points in between.

Despite having loads of them over the last three decades, the Senators have never hyped a wunderkind prospect before his arrival on City Island. Once they get there, sure. Before? Um, no.

The reason was simple: You cannot promote what you do not have, and the Senators never knew for sure when those can’t-miss prospects would arrive in Harrisburg.

At some point this summer – sooner, later, who knows? – the Washington Nationals will see fit to send to their affiliate in Harrisburg a 19-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic named Victor Robles.

Remember the name. He is Washington’s top prospect, the one every team in the majors asks for when talking trade with the Nationals.

Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo says no, but thanks for calling. He already rejected trade proposals this offseason with Pittsburgh and Chicago that would have brought to Washington either former National League most valuable player Andrew McCutcheon from the Pirates or perennial Cy Young Award candidate Chris Sale from the White Sox.

The Nationals, of course, believe Robles eventually will be just as productive as McCutcheon and Sale, if not more, in the major leagues. Before Robles gets there, though, he almost certainly will spend some time in Harrisburg.

Yet, the Senators – tempted as they may be – cannot promote the pending arrival of Robles or any other top prospect. They do not know the ETA, which will be determined by Robles’ performance in spring training and at the start of the season, as well as the Nationals’ guarded timetable as to when to move him from Class A Potomac to Harrisburg.

This is the nature of the relationship between major-league teams and their minor-league affiliates.

For now, you may safely make plans – hold your ears here, Wormleysburg – for another Friday-night fireworks extravaganza. Eventually, Robles will be in Harrisburg to see them, too.

The Big 33 Classic, once considered the preeminent high-school-football all-star game, is trying to emerge from its recent downward spiral.

Finances, disorganization and premier talent skipping the game to enroll early in college have been part of the problem.

Once-ardent support from college coaches has lessened, too. Really, what college coach wants a top recruit risking injury in an exhibition game?

Hoping to become relevant again, this year, the Big 33 has moved up the game – its 60th edition – to Monday, May 29 at Hersheypark Stadium. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. against an all-star team from Maryland.

Neither a great date nor time for the game, but then again maybe the switch will jump-start interest and pack Hershey’s 15,000-seat stadium.

One of the longest streaks in sports continued last month at Super Bowl LI, where for the 51st straight year at least one player from a past Big 33 game participated in the NFL’s signature game.

Big 33 alumni in this year’s Super Bowl were Matt Schaub, Atlanta’s backup quarterback who in 1999 played for Pennsylvania in its 21-14 loss to Ohio, and Josh McDaniels, the New England Patriots’ highly respected offensive coordinator who 22 years ago was Ohio’s kicker in a 28-21 loss to Pennsylvania.

While Schaub never played a snap in the Super Bowl, McDaniels had a pivotal role in calling plays as New England rallied from a 28-3 deficit to win in overtime 34-28.

One of the best-kept secrets this winter in South Central Pennsylvania has been the revival of the Harrisburg Heat in the Major Arena Soccer League.

After woefully struggling in the first four seasons of their revival, the Heat in year five have been a success on the field – just not in the stands as they average fewer than 1,400 fans for their games in the 7,200-seat State Farm Show Arena.

The Heat were winners in seven of their first 15 games this season with three of those eight losses coming in overtime. It may not sound like much until you consider the Heat over the previous three seasons won a total of seven of 55 games.

After spending money for talent, the Heat are competitive for the first time since the original franchise’s halcyon days in the 1990s. Definitely worth a look should the Heat end up qualifying for the MASL playoffs in March.

Finally, some fun with numbers, unless you run a business.

According to, March Madness in 2016 cost companies $1.9 billion in lost productivity from workers more interested in watching the NCAA basketball tournament during business hours rather than, well, actually doing work.