Two weeks ago I made the following remark to a friend: "It's nice that winter is over."
I made this comment after a couple weeks of mild weather. Yes, we had scarcely entered this month of purification known as February when I made this proclamation, but the flowers seemed to agree with me. All around campus, sprouts of tulips could be seen peeking through like a child cheating at hide and go seek, yearning to arrive just a little earlier than normal.
Yet I--along with each foolish tulip--was wrong. This week the temperatures plummeted, and my house is now surrounded by ice and snow. And so I'm thinking about minor league baseball.
My normal fifteen-minute commute turned into an hour-and-a-half bad dream on Thursday. In fact, my car never arrived home on Thursday, as a car, stalled a block from my house, impeded my final passage. I parked my own car in a parking lot and walked the final couple of blocks.
For this reason, I should be yearning for the heat and the fiery sun of Arizona, my old spring training destination. But I'm not.
Stress arrives in many forms for the minor league player during spring training. "What team will I make?" "Will I even have a job?" "Why did they sign another forty pitchers in last year's draft?" "And how come everyone seems to be throwing harder than me?" These types of questions stymy the minor league brain like the Arizona sun stymies moisture.
Today, I want to briefly talk about another, often overlooked spring training stressor for the minor league player: financial stress.
I've talked elsewhere about low minor league salaries, in several places. Because of these low salaries, an offseason job becomes paramount for many minor leaguers. Whether a player gives baseball lessons to kids or delivers Jimmy Johns on a bike with no brakes, the offseason job helps a player sustain himself. After all, players who did not receive large signing bonuses still have bills to pay: car payments, rent payments, phone payments, student loan payments, etc. People don't stop collecting bills just because you're chasing a dream.
Players don't earn salaries during spring training. Most teams provide lunch and a meager per diem to cover other meals. Teams also provide housing. But no salary is earned, and paying bills when you're playing for free poses difficulties.
Thus, as you watch Grapefruit League highlights on ESPN this spring, remember the lowly minor leaguer. Remember the stress that this player is enduring as he chases his dream. It's a beautiful dream, and a dream worth living. But, like any good dream, it entails sacrifice.
I played my six years in the minors, made my sacrifices, and ultimately failed. I've moved on to a normal life with a beautiful wife and a wonderful child. And we'll be playing in winter's last snow today instead of preparing for the fire of Arizona.
At this point in my life, I'll take the ice over the fire.