The league has never been better. The Billings (Montana) club has just been sold to a great ownership group, and their stadium is the newest one in the league and it's top notch. —Ogden Raptors team president Dave Baggott
The Pioneer League will never be mistaken for the Pacific Coast League.
While the Salt Lake Bees and other hopeful players in the PCL are all just one short, glorious step away from being in Major League Baseball those young guys who toil all summer long in the Pioneer League are usually a long way off from ever finding themselves at the pro level.
Indeed, some people like to consider the Pioneer League as professional baseball at its lowest form. It's not, but it's definitely near the bottom of the minor league ladder.
But that doesn't mean it's bad baseball. Not at all.
And the league as a whole — with the Orem Owlz's ill-fated (and since canceled) "Caucasian Heritage Night" promotion not withstanding — seems to be thriving these days.
"The Pioneer League has never been in a better position than it is today," Ogden Raptors team president Dave Baggott said. "The teams are all solid. Over the last 10 or 12 years, new ballparks are being built all over the league.
"The league has never been better. The Billings (Montana) club has just been sold to a great ownership group, and their stadium is the newest one in the league and it's top notch.
"Idaho Falls has rebuilt their stadium," Baggott continued, talking about the renovated facilities around the league. "Grand Junction plays at Mesa College, home of the junior college World Series, and they're finishing up year three of a four-year remodeling campaign. Great Falls is redoing their stadium, and Missoula's got a new stadium."
Baggott noted that having the former Casper (Wyoming) franchise move to Grand Junction, Colorado, where it's now owned by the parent Colorado Rockies' MLB club, is a positive move which serves to strengthen the league.
"The league has never been healthier," he said.
And, for the first time in league history, the Pioneer League will assemble an all-star team and play a game against the Northwest League All-Stars in early August at Spokane, Washington. It marks the first time ever that the two short-season leagues are crossing over to play each other.
Ogden is hoping to win the bid to host the Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game in 2016.
The all-star matchup is just one more step forward for the Pioneer League, a single-A, Rookie-level league comprised of eight teams located along the Rocky Mountains.
It's a league where winning has always taken a back seat to the development of players. Sure, winning's always nice, and it beats the heck out of losing. But the Pioneer League's true purpose is to try and teach young players the right way to do things so they can, hopefully, start to climb that ladder on their way up to Double-A, Triple-A and, eventually (and hopefully), the majors.
"For me, the bottom line is always development," said second-year Owlz manager Dave Stapleton, "and if we win along the way, that's a plus. Winning always makes the fundamentals the next day and batting practice and everything else the next day more fun.
"Our goal is just to get better each day. ... It comes down to us preparing them to make the step up to the next level. All of the teams in this league are in the same situation. We try to get them accustomed to what our organization wants and what we try to do.
"Now it's up to us to get 'em developed and we'll continue to do that every day, and we'll see how it works out," said Stapleton, who managed to make the climb up to the majors with the Milwaukee Brewers for a couple of seasons in the late 1980s.
Ah, yes, getting to "The Show." It's such a wonderful goal — and one which is very, very difficult to achieve.
"Even professionally at our level, if they start at our level, it takes four or five years for players to get there, and only five percent make it to the majors," said Baggott. "Its still a very difficult goal to reach."
That's certainly not to say it can't be done. The Raptors have seen well over a hundred of their former players reach the big leagues, and their Orem counterpart in the Pioneer League, the Owlz, have sent 64 of their "graduates" up to that masters program on the world's biggest stage they call "The Show."
Indeed, many of the players who dot today's MLB rosters got their professional baseball starts in either Ogden or Orem, including current stars Prince Fielder (Rangers), Dee Gordon (Marlins), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers), Mark Trumbo (Mariners) and Garrett Richards (Angels) and many, many others.
It's the dream of every ballplayer to someday get that opportunity, to walk into that big league clubhouse, put on that major league uniform and get a chance to play in that big league ballpark.
And it's a glorious dream that Baggott, who played in the Pioneer League for the Salt Lake Trappers, knows all about.
"Every single player that suits up for the Raptors, and every single player that suits up for the visiting team, I sit in the press box each night and watch those kids and hope every single one of them make the major leagues, because I know what it's like to have a dream," he said.
"As a ballplayer, I had that dream and I was fortunate enough to get to play a little bit and get paid to do it, but I never made it to the major leagues. I really hope that each and every one of these kids do."
Yes, it's such a great and glorious dream.
And, like Baggott likes to say, going to watch the Raptors and Owlz play on the diamond is a great way to "see tomorrow's stars today" — even if it's on that low rung of the minor league baseball ladder known as the Pioneer League.
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