As a reporter, the experience of covering MLB is far different than covering the minors.
There are many reasons, some obvious, some you may not know, but a big difference is your connection with the people in the stands.
In the minors the press box is located just close enough to feel like you're watching the game as everyone else is. I'm grateful for this now more than ever. When I met four devoted Yankees fans by way of Twitter, I got to meet them in person when I was covering a Trenton Thunder game. One of those people was a sweet and charismatic young man named Steven Smith.
The feeling of being at a minor league game is more social, even if you are at work. I go in the stands to watch the game at a closer angle, but also just to talk with scouts and fans. Something I can't do at a big league park. But the best part is feeling like you're getting to know the real fans in a more intimate, fun way. It's that environment that gave me the opportunity to talk with Steven (known as @stevensmithy on Twitter), Brent (@Bniche), Rebecca (@Rebeccapbp), and Mark Schwartz (@SchwartzsLaw).
When I came out of the press box I came face to face with Steven and Rebecca, both warm, friendly people. Steven's manner quickly made me laugh. I remember him having a kind of teasing remark for me. I looked forward to hanging with them later when I could get out of the press box.
I'm happy I did take the time that night. Steven, 24, lost his life in a car crash late Monday night. The outpouring on Twitter has been something to see. It made me realize that baseball - and this whole Twitter thing - bring people together in a very unique and positive way.
I only met him one other time, but it's what really made me want to write this.
When Andy Pettitte made a rehab appearance at Trenton last year, it was a media and fan blitz.
Fans poured in to see Big Game Andy up close. It was a frantic and hectic day, but a lot of fun to be there and see it all unfold. To see fans reaction when Andy took the field to warm up was a great feeling.
When I walked across the field to get to the photographer's well, I heard my name and turned. Steven yelled, "Hi Jess!" He looked absolutely thrilled to be there. I loved that connection with someone in the stands. I really felt like I was a fan with them that night. It was the first time I covered a Major League player's rehab and the energy was incredible. Pettitte has always been a favorite player, so I was as excited as Steven and the other fans.
I never saw Steven again that night.
But that game is the reason that I love the bus leagues. It is the perfect example. The closeness, the feeling that when a big leaguer comes it's a very big deal. The fun of it is there, rather than just wanting a win.
I remember Steven's smile when I turned and I wanted to shout, "Is this fun or what?!"
It is not everyday I connect with people. But the shared love of baseball is how I met Steven and his friends. And Minor League ball is the reason I got to know him, if just for a brief moment.
So glad for that. Keep smiling Steven.