Rambling on About My Glory Days – The Night and Day of Professional Baseball
Sure, playing in the big leagues is everything it is cracked up to be. Along with unbelievable salaries, players are given everything – free equipment, more than adequate per-day meal money, great clubhouse spreads after the game and the obvious adulation. The hotels are five star hotels with first class treatment. Major league players cruise to the park in Limos and in luxury cars. Major league players eat at the best restaurants and get into the best night clubs, along with the top notch amenities that go with those clubs â€” you know what I mean, but I won’t go there.
There are charter flights immediately after games and players are in beds in different cities before they even think of going to sleep. It is basically a “cake life” with the only responsibility to show up to the ballpark on time. Of course, there is great pressure to perform up to management, media, fans and one’s own expectations. For many major league players this pressure can be quite formidable, of which I have written about in the past.
There is another side of professional baseball that people often are not aware of – the minor league life. I would not trade my major league days for anything, butÂ my fondest memories of professional baseball are those I encountered in the minor leagues. My life-long friends and best times were had while toiling there. Of course, part of the reason for that is that I spent much more time in the minor leagues during my career. However, there is more to it than that. Playing in the major leagues is like a bunch of CEO’s coming together day in and day out. They work together to reach their individual numbers (stats), while hopefully reaching their corporate numbers (A World Series ring). At the end of the day, they head back to their individual penthouses and corporate empires. I don’t mean to make it sound like they are cold, uncaring individuals by any means. Almost all of big league players are guys that have spent time in the minors and know the minor league lifestyle and have not forgotten their past. Most of them are great, caring people and are doing some great things beyond the ball fields.
The point to be made though is that there are great differences in the life of the major leaguer compared to the minor league life. Minor league hotels don’t have restaurants or room service, let a lone night clubs, at least back when I played pro ball. The occasional clubhouse spreads were a sandwich, chips and a drink â€” a true happy meal because you could then get by on the measly meal money. Hopefully, there was a Denny’s nearby (for the Grand Slam breakfast, of course). Minor leaguers cruise to the ball park in the team bus or in cars they drove in high school, or that they bought with their complete bonus. Tough times sure, but when I look back those were the times I would not trade away for anything, either.
There is something about struggle that makes people closer, teaches people to rely on each other and creates life-long bonds. I remember having 3 roommates in single A ball for most of the season, until the last month when that increased to 7 in one apartment? After spending a 4 day series in casino infested Reno, three of our players didn’t believe the results of their gambling efforts and decided to go back on our off day. They proceeded to lose their recent paychecks and couldn’t afford their own apartment anymore. I remember eating at 7 elevens after many games because there were no restaurants open after 9 o’clock. I remember having to wait till midnights to get money before being able to take a bus back to our hotel because we had used up our previous days limit on our credit cards. I remember jumping up and down, high-fiving and acting like we had just won the lottery when a teammate and I won a $50 dollar keno ticket so we could afford a taxi instead of a bus.
Trying to get by on $500 dollars a month and $8 a day road meal money has a way of binding people together. There are so many friends made in professional ball that are unforgettable because of those times - all having the same dream, working hard and struggling to get to the penthouses. As mentioned, those are the guys that one creates a bond with that is everlasting. Many of us have not remained in touch over the years, but the memories of just hanging out together – riding the all night buses, getting up at 3 in the morning for an early flight (when going to bed at all), of sneaking in and out of Dodgertown at night (only big leaguers could afford to stay off base), of playing backgammon for hours because there was no money for poker, of sharing a free meal with teammates at a local restaurant who gave out free meals for home-runs. (That’s when it really hurt that I had no power as a hitter). “Those were the days” and those were the friends.
Former major leaguer Jack Perconte is the author of The Making of a Hitter (http://jackperconte.com) and has a baseball instruction blog that can be found at www.baseballcoachingtips.net. He has published his second book Raising an Athlete: ” How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport