A Year Without The Minor Leagues

Jul 2, 2020   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

It’s hard to fathom. It didn’t even make major headlines. It just happened because there was no other way for it to go. Due to Covid-19, there will be no minor league baseball in 2020. Well, let me make that a little more clear. There will be no MLB affiliated minor league baseball in 2020. No farm-system seasons. No Rookie ball, no A ball, no Double A, no Triple A. There are some independent leagues, which operate without working agreements with Major League franchises, that are trying to make a go of it. For instance, our nearby and much beloved St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association are playing. But, Minnesota’s current Covid rules make it impossible for them to play at home, at gorgeous CHS Field in downtown St. Paul, so for now they are playing their home games in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Number 5, pondering another day in the minors before the first pitch (click on any image to enlarge)

No minor league baseball. I can hardly imagine it, and my heart absolutely goes out to the players who are all missing a season, and to the amazing fans in minor-league towns ranging from Bluefield, West Virginia to Charlotte, North Carolina. From Lakeland, Florida to Fresno, California. Minor league ball is a way of life for those cities and towns, and for the young men who play there. It is one of the most rewarding, and yet challenging, times of their lives. And in 2020 it doesn’t exist.

I can’t overstate just how impactful the minors are to so many guys like me. Life altering. Dream making. Dream demolishing. So many more things you can’t even imagine until you get there.

The experience is different from guy to guy. The high draft picks, with their big bonus checks and legitimate dreams of big league stardom, are there to hone a few final skills before being moved up through the organization and on to the big club. To “The Show.” The middle group, guys who weren’t as highly touted but have serious skills, are trying to prove themselves and make the scouts wonder why they didn’t rate them higher. The majority, the vast majority, are guys like me. Thrilled to be there. Relishing every moment. Soaking it all in. Hoping for those miracles that can happen to any player who makes it this far. I had my moments. Good and bad. Seems like I remember every one of them.

You learn a lot more than just baseball in the minors. You learn how to take care of yourself. You either become more mature or you wash out in a hurry. “Remember that guy whose locker was right there? What was his name?” You learn to survive in the bus leagues. It was not easy to eat well, or even eat enough, on $7.00 a day meal money, and that was only on road trips.

New town. New team. New friends.

You make new friends and bond with them. You’re in it together. When that bonding happens, it’s a much easier game to pursue and strive to succeed at.

You learn that riding a bus is a bigger part of the whole experience than the playing. Many of the games last three hours or less. Many of the bus rides last six to 12 hours, maybe even longer. You learn to sleep on another guy’s shoulder without worrying about it. As Jackson Browne sang in the classic song “The Load Out” which was about life on the road as a musician, “The only time that seems too short is the time that we get to play.”

You just go. You don’t hesitate. It will all be OK if you just go and give it your best shot. There will be good days, with a miraculous catch or a walk-off rocket into the gap, and there will be bad ones with strike-outs at a critical time, but you just keep going. Don’t ever hesitate. Need to be on the other side of the country because someone out there is still willing to pay you? Go!

You grow up a lot. You have to. College and high school were different. It was all very structured. You had actual school to attend, and then you got to play ball after the classes were done. Now, maybe a thousand miles from home surrounded by guys you never met, you’re on your own. You’re there to work, but the job doesn’t start until late in the afternoon and it keeps you up and wired until the middle of the night. If you can handle that, and stay healthy and focused, you have a chance. If you can’t, and you go crazy with your newfound freedom, it won’t last long.

You meet guys who are challenging to get along with, but you meet more who are the greatest dudes on Earth. And you establish that bond.

Jose and Eddie. Two months earlier they’d never met and were from far different backgrounds.

For every self-centered guy I met, there were dozens of others like Jose Rodriguez and Eddie Gates. Just pure great guys who were living the dream alongside me. Class acts who just wanted to play. We made the most of it. We loved the game. We were madly in love with it.

We laughed. We sweated. We nursed injuries that ranged from pulled muscles to traumatic stuff (oh, like maybe taking a Louisville Slugger to the face and knowing my life was forever altered before I even hit the ground.) We grew. We helped each other. We cheered for each other. We learned and shared our knowledge. We had the time of our lives.

And now it’s not happening in 2020.

I’m heartbroken for the rookies waiting to experience it for the first time. I’m equally heartbroken for the longterm minor league veterans, trying to hang on one more year with a wife and kids at home, counting on that $2,500 a month.

This virus has cost us all a lot. It’s cost more than 100,000 lives! It’s altered our way of living and our expectations for the future. It’s pure evil, and we haven’t contained it worth a damn here. We let it overtake us, and we still see people not even caring.

The minor leaguers care. They wouldn’t have gotten this far if they didn’t care. They love the game with all adoration their hearts can muster. It’s what they’ve always dreamed of doing. It’s their version of “Field of Dreams” and now the field is closed. There’s no baseball here.

Can you pitch? Sure, why not? Just living the dream.

I wish them all the best. Hang in there guys. Keep the dream alive. Don’t quit. Don’t give up.

I leave you with a photo of a guy who worked so hard at keeping the dream alive he played seven positions in pro ball. The last position was relief pitcher. That’s reaching as hard as you can to keep it going. I miss it every day.

That’s it. That’s the blog today. Short and to the point but very meaningful to me.

Let’s buckle our butts down and stop this virus. Lives depend on it. Dreams depend on it.

Bob Wilber, at your service and so damn lucky to have done this…

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