Baker: Journey Towards MLL

This is my first column about the MLL and since every journey starts with a single step it seems fitting to start at the beginning of the league.

The league was founded by Jake Steinfeld, Dave Morrow, and Tim Robertson seemingly out of thin air and will power.  These gentlemen pulled together and even though it took three years before the first official season they never gave up and the result was the professional field lacrosse league we now have to enjoy.  Players now have another option after their college career is over to pursue the sport they love.

In the late 90s your options for continuing your lacrosse career after college graduation was a club team or the MILL.  If you were lucky, the club team was sponsored.  There were various levels of sponsorship.  The low end consisted of one set of reversible pennies with numbers on the back and the name of your favorite local pub on the front.  No one had matching equipment unless they went to the same college or high school and were lucky to keep their equipment after graduation.  The high end clubs were Mount Washington, Green Turtle, and New York Athletic Club.  They landed top talent upon their graduation.  When Team Toyota emerged it was like a super group with matching jerseys, shorts, and equipment!  Toyota’s roster was a who’s who of college lacrosse.  It was next to impossible to beat them, much less land a roster spot.

The second option, the MILL, was the professional indoor league and had their pick of top college and Canadian box players.  Some college players struggled to adapt to the indoor game and never found a home in the box game.  Players got paid to play lacrosse and winning was expected by the rabid fan base.  The pay was not enough for most players to live off of that income alone, but the indoor league attracted top talent.  How many of you remember the Detroit Turbos, Long Island Saints, or Boston Blazers?  There was some incredible lacrosse played in the MILL and it eventually morphed into the NLL, but it was not the field game.  It was not until Jake, David, and Tim came along, that the field lacrosse players had an outlet to play on a professional level.

Even now MLL player salaries are not enough to make ends meet without the supplementation of a secondary income.  This supplemental income often consists of running their own companies specializing in coaching and training.  The Face Off Academy, Trilogy Lacrosse, LB3, Rogue Lacrosse and Resolute Lacrosse are just a few of these companies run by players giving back to the sport we all love.  These players have given back to the sport and the impacts of their efforts are felt every year on the collegiate and professional level with younger generations showcasing skills learned in these camps.  The rise in social media also makes it easier for MLL players to reach younger players.

Now players are working around year round with sport specific training and nutrition.  The level of elite competition necessitates that dedication. Teams that have the best chemistry are the ones making the most noise at the end of the season.  Look at the turnaround of Rochester and Ohio last season and Charlotte’s run during championship weekend two years ago if you do not believe me.  Yes there were some great coaching and roster moves, but at the MLL level all these players aren’t just good. They are really, really GOOD.  I like to compare it to the players that make NFL rosters.  Even the players that don’t start are great players.

In short, professional lacrosse is not where we want it to be, but it has come further than it was.  The days of club ball the weekends after your work week are still there, but the MLL provides us some elite competition and entertainment.  Expansion has been slow, but lessons learned from the early years of the league proved that location means everything.  The next stages or expansion or even relocation need to be weighed carefully.  They need to be home runs so the league grows and provides more exposure for the sport.  With the dedication and hard work of the players, support staff, and league personnel I have faith in the future and so should you.