Major League Baseball already has missed its opportunity to dominate the nation’s sports scene in the early summer and produce record ratings for its regional sports networks. Now, the owners’ man, Rob“Money” Manfred, and the players’ man, Tony Clark, are doing everything in their powers to make any remnant of a season that happens to survive into a farcical afterthought.

Manfred is the main culprit here, and his willingness to sell out the game he doesn’t love was on full display Wednesday with the first round of MLB’s five-round draft.

Five rounds, then crumbs to sign. In other words, go away, you scores of talented youth trying to decide on an athletic future — Money and his pandemic-panicked, nearsighted owners don’t want you.

The country already had a waning passion for the Grand Old Game, and now MLB is creating an avalanche of ill will with this failure to launch, the intent to strip down the minor leagues and the mini-draft — not to forget, the Cheatin’ Astros.

What Manfred and Clark and Houston’s Magic Garbage Can cannot kill is the desire to play this game at its grassroots:

Men in their 30s and 40s still relishing the day they made a play in the shortstop hole and teammates shouted, “Ozzie Smith,” and men in their 20s with peak skills that shouldn’t be wasted, and youngsters culled from the coach-pitch masses who managed to see the beauty in the game even as they attempted a throw across the diamond as if putting a 12-pound shot.

My love for Minnesota’s unique bond with town team baseball has not been well-disguised. The admiration for these teams, usually a combination of young baseball addicts and warriors against age, has increased over the past couple of weeks, amid reports of our clubs heading to Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas to find games.

The guidelines for Minnesota’s pandemic restrictions — known here as the “Rules of Inconsistency’’ — continued on Wednesday to ban games, as town teams already were searching east, south and west to cure the itch to play an opponent.

Al Jorenby is the business manager at the Register newspaper in Brookings, S.D., and also helps organize the Brookings Cubs, a Class A team in South Dakota’s amateur baseball.

“We had 23 teams from Minnesota contact us looking for games last weekend,’’ Jorenby said. “Not just teams from near the border, either. Champlin Park, Clearwater, Forest Lake, Elrosa, Roscoe … those five come to mind.

“We wound up playing the Milroy Yankees and Dawson. This weekend, five teams will be here: St. Nicholas, New London-Spicer, Atwater, Forest Lake and Pipestone. We’re playing a few games, and the Minnesota teams are also playing against one another.’’

The Cubs are hosting these games at a ballpark 10 minutes away in Aurora, since the Brookings municipal ballpark is undergoing a $2.5 million reconstruction.

Bob Dolan, manager of Milroy’s other team, the Irish, took his team to Bryant, S.D., for two games on May 31, and had a game against the Aurora Aces last Sunday.

“We’ve added three players and have a really good team,’’ Dolan said. “We plan to play again this weekend in South Dakota, but we have to get this thing started in Minnesota.

“Here in Greater Minnesota … we have nothing but space. We’re playing a game that has acreage. You now can have dozens of people in a bar, but you can’t have 50 people at a ballpark? It makes no sense.

“People want to see baseball so badly we’ve had 40, 50 people watching us practice.’’

Levi Becker, the 25-year-old manager of the Fairmont Martins, can confirm this enthusiasm. The Martins have traveled 35 miles to Bancroft, Iowa, to play in that small town’s historic (1948) and wonderful Memorial Park.

Bancroft’s team this summer is “Those Guys,’’ so named by Michael Keeran, the manager. Keeran was supposed to be running the Bancroft Bandits in the collegiate Pioneer League, but when the five-team league canceled 2020 in May, he formed this club.

Fairmont and the New Ulm Brewers were in Bancroft last weekend. The Brewers beat the Martins 5-3, Those Guys combined to no-hit the Brewers 2-0, and Fairmont’s Matt Lytle no-hit Those Guys 2-0.

The stunner for Becker came when the Martins played their first game at Bancroft vs. Blue Earth on June 3 and an estimated 200 people showed up from Fairmont.

“During the regular season, 100 is a good home crowd for us,’’ Becker said.

More evidence that a hunger for baseball does exist. Too bad it isn’t shared by Rob Manfred and Tony Clark.

 

Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.