BOB WIRZ, Independent Baseball Insider
While many of the geographic priorities have shifted somewhat from where they were in 1993, it is likely most insiders would still agree that Independent Baseball's No. 1 reason for existence these last 19 years has been to provide professional baseball in communities which would not otherwise have this type of affordable entertainment within miles of where fans live.
And for players still chasing their dream, these leagues not affiliated with major league baseball teams provide 1,500 to 2,000 athletes a chance to sharpen their skills until the right opportunity knocks. This makes the 2011 season one of the most successful on record because 39 players have experienced the thrill of wearing a major league uniform, with nine of those happening for the very first time. This number could increase as the affiliated leagues wrap up their playoffs.
We stated earlier that the previous high-water mark had been 35 players, and while further research shows 40 players measured by the same yardstick made it to the Majors in 2003, this is the best year since. 30 Indy players were in the majors last year; 28 in '09.
Five players, including three first-timers, have gotten the call since rosters expanded September 1, and some of them have already contributed.
The ability to steal bases was a prime factor in outfielders Justin Christian and Antoan Richardson joining their parent teams. Christian, one of the most prized Indy players since he got his first pro contract at this level (River City, O'Fallon, MO, Frontier League), hit leadoff for defending World Champion San Francisco in his first major league game since 2008 and it was his fifth-inning double and run that put the Giants on top in a 6-4 win at San Diego September 6.
Richardson, who needed a second chance in the Northern League (Schaumburg, IL), in 2009-10 after the Giants had let him go, got a pinch hit in his major league debut with postseason-bound Atlanta.
Bob Wirz also writes about Independent Baseball on two other sites, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com and www.AtlanticLeagueBaseball.com. Fans may subscribe for 2011 to this Independent Baseball Insider column at www.WirzandAssociates.com or comment to RWitz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball experience with Kansas City and as a spokesman for two Commissioners, and lives in Stratford, CT.