We often forget about the struggles of the minor league ballplayer. While they do get to play a game for their job, there are still many difficulties and hardships involved. Baseball is easily one of the toughest sports in the world, and many things can go wrong before a player ever sees the light of the majors. Some players struggle to make it out of rookie league. The game of baseball is that tough. But it is not just the competition that is tough – There are countless factors that are forced onto a player at such a young age.
Most people ages 17-19 are sneaking out of their house and attending a late-night rager. While they could certainly do that with baseball as a profession, they probably will not last very long in the baseball industry. Professional athletes need to grow up quick, especially considering how many eyes they have on them at all times. Eyes that are evaluating – just like every other profession.
While it varies with each team and individual, most first-year players in the GCL are making roughly $350-500 a paycheck. Each league (A, AA, AAA, etc) has a set contract with MLB for a minimum and maximum wage applicable for players. Obviously, the GCL (and AZL) is the lowest on the chain in terms of rookie leagues where recently drafted players first join. Players will also receive an increase in salary based off service years – similar to other tiered systems. There are some stipulations involved with international players, and they have a separate pay-scale, albeit not too far off from the other. Finally, clubs also give each player a daily stipend around $25. This is essentially food money.
Even though the money is above minimum wage (barely), it is not all sunshine and rainbows like some think. Unless a player received a large bonus, they are often taking a large gamble heading to professional ball instead of college. Fortunately, some teams will provide funding for school in the off-season or in their future endeavors. But not always and not for everyone. There are still many cases where a player is choosing baseball as their current life-path over everything. They love the game that much. And consider the international players that are signing for next to nothing.
Adding along to growing up quickly, and learning how to manage money for (usually) the first time, there is still heavy competition. Orioles Nation was lucky enough to talk with Jake Pintar and Adrian Marin about their experiences in the GCL.
Pintar, 19, is entering his third season within the Baltimore Orioles organization. From San Juan Hill High School in Cota de Coza, California, Pintar was selected by the Orioles in the 29th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft.
The 6’7” right handed pitcher spent the previous two seasons in the GCL, recording a 2-2 record and 3.08 ERA over 26 appearances. His numbers saw an increase from 2012 to his 2013 campaign, which included a slightly heavier workload for the young hurler.
Marin, also 19 years old and entering his third season in the organization, was selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft out of Gulliver Prep (Miami, FL).
The 6’0”/165-pound shortstop spent a majority of his 2012 season in the Gulf Coast League (47 games) before ending the campaign with six games at Low-A Delmarva. Though Marin spent his entire 2013 season at Delmarva (108 games, .265 BA, 4 HR, 48 RBI, 11 SB at SS) he saw his fair share of ball-games at the GCL level.
Both Pintar and Marin have taken time out of prepping for the 2014 season to answer a few of our questions regarding their playing experience in the Gulf Coast League.
Orioles-Nation: Life in the GCL is an eye-opening experience. For many, it is the first time in their life they are living away from their home, often on their own or with a roommate. How was this experience for you? Was it difficult making the transition from a High School student to a professional athlete?
Adrian Marin: Yes, at first it was different. The ground balls came harder, the players ran faster, and the pitches were a lot better. However, once I played my first few games, I was able to quickly transition to the new type of play. It was also nice to be living so close to home because my parents were able to see me play and the weather is as nice as it is back home.
Jake Pintar: The transition from a high school student to a professional athlete has been everything I had hoped and more. As soon as I arrived to the GCL after being drafted, right away I knew that this experience with the Orioles was going to be a great one. I’ve always been a hard worker so I carried over my competitive mentality, my drive to succeed and great work ethic with me. This helped make my transition easier.
ON: What’s a typical day in the GCL like? I can imagine it’s all pretty jam-packed from the minute you wake up, but do you get any time to yourself throughout the day?
Adrian: A day in the GCL starts off with a 6:30 am wake up. Upon arriving to the field, we ate breakfast, geared up, and hit the field around 8 am. At this time we would stretch, throw, defensive drills, and finish with live BP around 12 pm. We then had an hour to eat lunch and prepare for the game. We would play from 1 to about 4 pm. After our post game routines, we would eat dinner at the complex and head back to the hotel to sleep and repeat it all again. While at the hotel after a long day, a nap was ideal, but we would often play video games and ping pong to keep our mind off baseball for a bit.
Jake: A typical day for me is waking up early in the morning and getting ready to go to the complex. It starts with reading the board and finding out what I have scheduled for the day then I head over to the cafeteria and eat breakfast. Afterwards, I get ready to stretch, play catch and then, I get ready for the game. When I’m playing baseball I focus on what I need to do and get it done. After baseball I take time to rest and get ready for the next day.
ON: One aspect of professional baseball that some do not understand is the heightened level of difficulty. Can you explain to us how big the jump from High School to the GCL really is?
Adrian: I remember my first game I was hit a hard ground ball, I took my time fielding it and setting my feet to throw, however as I looked up to throw I noticed the guy was almost at first already. I hurried my throw, but he was safe already. This was an eye opening experience for me, because after that moment I realized just how much faster professional ball really is compared to high school and never made that mistake again. Hitting wise, the pitchers threw a lot harder, so I had to get ready and react sooner and quicker. The breaking balls moved a lot more and were difficult to hit at first, however with practice and coaching, I was able to adjust.
Jake: The difficulty that I experienced in the GCL is that I am now playing with some of the most talented and competitive players from all over the world. In high school I was a thrower. I could throw fastballs by hitters, but in the GCL I had to learn how to be a pitcher and throw all my pitches and locate them to get batters out.
ON: I assume a lot of time is spent on the road traveling to games around Florida, and visiting different clubhouses. What do you and your teammates do to pass the time while traveling?
Adrian: We were fortunate enough to have our longest trip be about and hour and forty-five minutes to Fort Myers. While on our bus trips, we would either sleep or just listening to music and play different games on our ipads.
Jake: While traveling my teammates and I will pass the time by listening to music, and getting mentally prepared for the game.
ON: Another thing that I feel may be tough is the fact that everyone on your team, and every opposing player all have one goal: to make it to the major leagues. Does that make it tough to bond with teammates, and become close friends with the guys you’re playing with?
Adrian: No, we are competitive, but uplifting. At the end of the day, we are a team and need to support each other regardless of the circumstances and focus on winning games.
Jake: We all have a common goal and that is to make it to the major leagues. However, I have made some of my best friends on the GCL Orioles team. We support and encourage each other. During the season we all have one common goal and that is to win.
ON: What’s the biggest piece of information that you learned and took away from your experience at GCL? And do you feel it has helped prepare you for Spring Training this year?
Adrian: It is an everyday grind out there and you have to learn to maintain your health and focus throughout the whole season. It has prepared me for spring training, because having experienced one before, I realize that it is the starting block for a successful season. The work and focus you put into spring training will translate to your play during the season.
Jake: One of the biggest pieces of information that I have learned and that I will never forget is that anything is possible, if you really want it. It has helped me to stay motivated and determined. I feel I am better prepared both mentally and physically for this year’s Spring Training.