Life in the Minors
April, 2002

Minor League Numbers

by Joe Kuras

When you are dealing with Major League Baseball, you are talking about big numbers. Like $75 million, as in the operating profit of major league teams last season according to Forbes Magazine. Or $232 million, as in the operating losses of those same teams, according to commissioner Bud Selig.

Sometimes it is fruitless to talk statistics with a Triple-A ballplayer. By then the players are seasoned enough to give you the standard Crash Davis/Bull Durham answers like “I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out.”

As the Pawtucket Red Sox ventured north from spring training and returned to McCoy Stadium for another season of International League baseball, let’s take a look at another set up numbers.

95Paw Sox infielder Angel Santos
I was talking about the Paw Sox and spring training with one of my sons recently. One thing he never thought about was how the players get from spring training in Florida to Pawtucket, RI or Trenton, NJ. He was kind of surprised that they actually drive all that distance in a 24-30 hour window.

Second baseman Angel Santos lives in Puerto Rico in the off-season. He flew to Fort Myers this year, bought a new car in Florida and drove it up Interstate 95 at the end of spring training. Catcher Luis Rodriguez and first baseman Carlos Diaz were his traveling companions. The trip took about 25 hours, as the threesome took turns behind the wheel.

Outfielder Jerry Salzano, of Princeton, NJ, played 25 minutes from home last year at Double-A Trenton. He left Florida to go to Houston with the Boston team for the last 2 exhibition games of the spring training season. At the conclusion of that 2-game series, Salzano flew back to Fort Myers. He then made the long drive up I-95 alone, stopping off at home for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep before finally arriving in Pawtucket.

Life is so much simpler when you only have to deal with minor league numbers. Like $18, as in the cost of 2 adults with 2 kids under age 12 to attend a Pawtucket Red Sox game. Unlike the price of gas, this is a number that rarely changes. And parking is STILL free at McCoy Stadium. Provided you get there early enough.

If you have to pay for parking, or don’t want to wait in line to get into the free lots, the private entrepreneurs in the neighborhood only charge a mere $5.00 to park.

Opening Night 2002 was such a stark contrast to my first Paw Sox game, the home opener in 1978. This year, only my season parking pass got me into the lot behind home plate. But even then, I had to park on the far side of the lot, down the right field line, much closer to the Hasbro Toy building than McCoy Stadium.

Twenty-four years ago, I got a choice parking spot on Opening Night, plus front row box seats behind home plate as Paw Sox southpaw John Larose faced the Charleston Charlies.

45 & 7,701
The temperature at game time was only 45 degrees for the 2002 home opener. Yet 7701 fans filled the grandstand. Only the center field bleachers were empty. By the end of the game, the temperature dropped 10 degrees and the number of fans in attendance dipped to the hundreds. This was how it looked and felt when I attended that first game in ’78.

“It’s a shame that the conditions were so cold and a lot of the fans couldn’t stay for the whole ballgame,” remarked Paw Sox manager Buddy Bailey. “But that was a good game to watch tonight.”

Paw Sox first baseman Juan DiazNew England fans may be accustomed to the weather, but there are always a few players who need to adjust.

“I’ve never played in cold weather, in Cuba or the Dominican (Republic). So this is my first year (starting the season) - I got here early to the Boston area.” Juan Diaz “When I came up here I said, ‘Oh my God!’”

2,000 or 350,000?
The salary of a minor league ballplayer can vary greatly. Had he begun the year at Triple-A Pawtucket, Boston outfielder Rickey Henderson would have made $350,000.

In contrast, and according to Prospect Watch of Smyrna, GA 30080, the typical minor league salary scale is:
First Year: $850 per month
Class A: $1050-$1250 per month
Class AA: $1250-$1450 per month
Class AAA: $1500-$2000 per month

Salaries are not popular topics of conversations with ballplayers. They will talk in general terms about how the numbers vary. They may get paid either monthly or bi-weekly. They may get paid for just the months they are playing or year-round. But they are reluctant to talk about any actual figures or salary ranges.

“It’s different. Not everyone gets the same money,” said Santos. “Some of the guys that have been around for a couple of years make more than other guys but we make different kinds of money.”

Salzano was more succinct: “I don’t think it’s a polite question but it varies from player to player,” Salzano.

The Red Sox minor league camp seemed to be a bit better organized this year as the Pawtucket 24-man roster was finalized. Players had more advance notice as to what team they would be assigned to by the time spring training broke. In past years, the last exhibition games were completed, camp was over and the players still had not received their minor league assignments.

Life in the minor league camp can be a bit unsettling. One roster move or player acquisition at the major league level can cause a ripple affect all the way down the lowest level of Rookie/A ball.

“You always wonder how it’s going to affect you but you can only do so much. So you just let your playing take care of itself,” said Salzano.

59Paw Sox outfielder Jerry Salzano
The Paw Sox stole a mere 59 bases in 2001. If the Boston Red Sox are to be more aggressive on the base paths under the new manager and owners, then they have to start preaching that philosophy to their minor leaguers. As a team, the Paw Sox stole 59 bases last year.

Salzano noticed this change in philosophy right away in spring training.

“You have different plays, coming from Grady (Little, new Boston manager) and a different philosophy on the bases”, Salzano offered. “We’ll try to get more stolen bases this year and be more aggressive on the base paths.”

The last year the Paw Sox won a home opener was in 1993. It was manager Buddy Bailey’s first game as the Pawtucket skipper. The Paw Sox did not win another home opener until 2002 – Bailey’s first year back at the helm for Boston’s Triple-A franchise.

It seems like the only time I listen to an AM radio station is when I’m driving home from a baseball game, looking for another game to listen to. On the way home from Media Night in Pawtucket one early April night, I started searching the airwaves for a ballgame. Would you believe that the only game I could find was on 730 AM? It came from the MLB team that had little or no radio/TV coverage in recent years. The only game on the radio was in French – that of the contraction-bound Montreal Expos. Go figure.