George Will, iin his column in today’s WaPo: describes some of the realities of life for players in the South Atlantic League (The Sally League), a low-A minor league for Major League Baseball:
The RiverDogs play 140 games in 151 days, traveling by bus, living at least two to a room in motels, some earning as little as $1,050 a month — and only during the season — with a $20 per diem for food. “Sometimes,” says a player touchingly grateful for life’s little blessings, “the motel is near an Outback.” A young man from west Texas says, “I had a brother working in the oil fields. So if I wake up tired one day, I think, ‘I could be doing that.’ ” Most of today’s Sally Leaguers will be doing something like that sooner than they can bring themselves to imagine. But for now they are delighting some of the 40 million fans who will see minor league baseball this summer. The RiverDogs, averaging about 3,800 fans a game, are one of five teams partly owned by Mike Veeck, a third-generation baseball man — his father put the ivy on Wrigley Field’s outfield walls — whose management doctrine is: “Treat people as if they’re coming into your home. Nothing is too much trouble.”
… About 40 percent of the players on the 40-man rosters of the 30 major league clubs each spring are Sally League alumni, including, last April, Derek Jeter, Curt Schilling, Ivan Rodriguez, Luis Gonzalez, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones and John Smoltz. But nowhere near 40 percent of Sally League players get to the majors. Most were the best on their high school teams and are slow — mercifully so — to understand the severity of professional baseball’s meritocracy.
Part of that which drives a young man to continue to play minor league baseball is the belief that his hard work will pay off. What also drives the young man is the payoff he expects to get if he makes The Show. The chances may be slight and the life he leads while he tries to make The Show may not be glamorous, but, oh, what fun he’ll have if he makes it – and toiling in oil fields will never pay off like making The Show will.