The quote is from one my teammates. We were recently talking about the difficulties of eating healthy in the minor leagues. We often have this discussion, but we had a specific prompt this time: Pictures of our personable teammate, Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval, working out.
I first saw the pictures on Facebook. Pablo doing abs with a med ball. Pablo on a treadmill. Pablo grimacing on a leg press machine. Pablo chopping wood, running through snow, and doing pullups in a barn. (Wait, that's Rocky). Then came the story by the SF Chronicle regarding "Camp Panda." More of the same pictures, and details of Pablo running up mountains--Camelback specifically--in a single bound.
My anonymous teammate sent me the link to the Chronicle's article. We both agreed that we loved seeing Pablo work like this. He's an impact player. His energy is contagious, he loves the game, and he can flat out hit.
We delved further into the situation. Specifically, my teammate asked me a question: Why did they wait until he was an established star to worry about his weight? Why didn't they worry about it years ago, when he was already at 240 pounds but short of 270? Why don't they do more to help minor minor leaguers improve their diets? (Okay, that was more than one question.)
I tried giving an answer. They want to save money? They don't care about players until they reach the major leagues? They weren't good answers.
In my upcoming Baseball America story on salaries (yes it does exist--crossing fingers--should be out in 2 weeks), I touch on this subject, but I'd like to expound upon it here. It's not easy to eat healthy in the minor leagues. Often choices are limited. And often budgetary resources are limited.
There is a fairly easy solution to this problem. Most guys arrive to the field each day around 2 pm. They eat a snack. They eat a full meal around 5:30 after BP. They eat again after the game. This is over half of their daily caloric intake. It's probably close to two-thirds. Why not ensure that these calories are good calories?
A slight effort is made by most teams. Nutritionists give a 15 minute talk in spring training, and guidelines are given for clubbies. But these clubbies are operating on a budget. Players pay dues for the "spread," and an effort is made to keep these dues low. With little money to spend and rushed for time, the result is often quick, easy, and cheap food. The junk food brims with the normal trifecta--fat, sugar, and sodium.
I have to admit I like eating Doritos once in a while. And who doesn't like the occasional corndog? But these shouldn't be staples of pre-game meals. We're playing baseball, not watching a tractor pull at a state fair.
Post-game meals are often no better. Again operating on a short budget, fried chicken and Stouffer's lasagna prevail at the upper levels of the minors. In the lower levels, many teams don't even have post-game spreads to reduce the cost of dues. Instead, players are left to find food themselves. On the road, late-night options near the hotel are limited to McDonald's or trail mix from the local gas station. Some players simply order Domino's Pizza night after night.
Certain teams are beginning to take steps to remedy this. The RedSox, for instance, pay for meals after home games for their "A ball" players. The meals are fresher and more nutritious than the normal post-game meal. It cost them around $5 per player--around $150 per night. With 70 home games, it amounts to $10,500. It's not a small expense, but when these players are the future of your organization--not to mention that teams have spent a lot of money on their top picks--it would seem to be a good investment.
Along with a lack of options, the low meal money allotted players complicates matters. Per diem, provided when the team is on the road, has remains at $20. It hasn't increased since McDonald's introduced the Big Mac. (I actually can't verify that.) For a Double A player, over half of this goes to clubhouse dues. Around seven or eight dollars is left for both breakfast and lunch.
In a story I wrote last off-season, I talked about an effort made to raise per diem. General managers wanted to do it. It just needed a vote by owners. Commissioner Selig didn't even raise the issue at the winter meetings.
Minor leaguers recognize that our situation is better than many in the world. We have food while many go hungry. But we're trying to play at our fullest potential, and it's tough to do so when eating junk food.
Players aren't expecting to eat filet mignon every night. They don't want to gorge themselves on crab legs (too difficult and messy, but man they taste good). They just want to have a healthy meal once in a while. Right now that's a wish that's hard to fulfill.
We'll just keep eating fried chicken and pizza. A few of us will actually reach the big leagues. They'll care about us then.
Update: I've had mixed reports on whether or not the Giants give money for post-game meals in the form of reimbursements. Hopefully more teams begin using the method of the RedSox, where they just pay for decent meals! As of now, I've only heard of a few teams doing this. Hopefully the idea spreads.
I also don't want to come across as criticizing the clubhouse managers. Those guys work their butts off! They don't get the credit, or the pay, that they deserve.