For Valley sports fans who enjoy attending professional baseball games but don’t always want to pay big-league prices, there is an alternative this summer.
Minor league baseball is back for the first time since 2000 in the form of the independent Golden Baseball League. The league, which owns all of the franchises, features seven teams from Arizona and California and a traveling team of Japanese players. The Mesa Miners, the only entry from the East Valley, will throw out the first pitch of their 90-game schedule at 6:35 p.m. today when they host the Yuma Scorpions at Hohokam Park.
Doing the honors will be right-hander Grant Williams, who is entering his fourth season in independent ball.
This level of baseball, "is a fun atmosphere for kids and families," Williams said. "They can be more intimate with the players and be able to get autographs right after the game. And there are lot of promotions."
Ticket prices range from $5 to $13, but for the first three games, all seats are $1.
The Miners are managed by former major league pitcher Les Lancaster, who played for the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals from 1987-93.
While there is only one bigname player in the league — future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson plays for the San Diego Surf Dawgs — Lancaster said fans can expect to see a highly competitive brand of baseball.
"You’re not going to see the superstars like you do with the Diamondbacks," Lancaster said. "But you’re going to see kids out here that are really busting their butts hard and giving it everything they’ve got to get a first chance to get with an organization or get back to an affiliated team."
Each team is required to carry eight rookies on its 24-man roster and can have up to five players over the age of 27 and up to two former major leaguers.
Shortstop Cleatus Davidson, Mesa’s only player to have reached the big leagues, said the Miners have a very balanced roster.
"I think we’ve got a pretty good all-around team," said Davidson, who has played professionally for 11 years and spent part of the 1999 season with the Minnesota Twins. "This spring we’ve been swinging pretty good and our
pitching has been throwing well. I’m real positive about this team and our season."
So is Lancaster, who has five years of experience as a manager in independent baseball.
"I’ve been surprised with the power we have," he said. "That’s been a bonus for us. I knew I had the speed; I knew I had the defense. And the pitching has been solid like I thought it would be."
SHORT HOP: Among the promotions scheduled for this weekend is Pat Sajak night on Friday. The "Wheel of Fortune" host, who is one of the league’s investors, is scheduled to make an appearance at the game and 2,000 bobble heads in his likeness will be given away.
Golden Baseball League What: New independent baseball league
Teams: Arizona Division — Mesa Miners, Surprise Fightin’ Falcons, Yuma Scorpions, Japan Samurai Bears; California Division — Chico Outlaws, Fullerton Flyers, Long Beach Armada, San Diego Surf Dawgs
Miners Tickets: Range from $5 to $13 and are available at the Hohokam Park box office; the Miners front office, 123 N. Centennial Way, Suite 150, Mesa; at www.mesaminers.com or by calling (480) 396-4637