A Day In the Minors

By Jason Esposito

The bus rides. The hotels. The food — peanut butter and jelly, “if you don’t like it, play better,” as the saying goes. We are infamous, every major leaguer has been through it, but what isn’t chronicled is our optimism and work ethic. It’s a struggle, it’s a grind, but the pessimism surrounding the minor leagues is what makes it feel like a dungeon.

The best part of being a professional baseball player is getting to do what I love. But, I can’t speak for everyone, for each player’s goals may be completely different than my own.

Here’s my story, what I know, what I feel: my Minor League Baseball journey.

You get lost, that’s for sure, if you’re not a first round pick with a card deal and tons of hype. You’re forgotten, i’ve been there.

What’s The Worth Of a 17 Year Old?

I was drafted in the 7th round out of a Connecticut high school — Amity High School. I was 17 and I had an agent. He asked me to put a number on my worth, on my value. How was I supposed to know the answer to that as a 17-year-old kid?

To my parents I was worth 10 million dollars, but that’s unrealistic for 99%. I remember sitting in my room playing Xbox — I can’t remember the game, but that’s probably because the controller cracked the glass of my TV, which blinded that part of my memory.

We were on the phone for 30 minutes — my “advisor” and I (You cant call them “agents” or else you jeopardize your NCAA eligibility). He asked repetitive questions, “Would you sign for $300,000?” he asked.

“Um, I don’t know, I would, I mean that’s a lot of money.” I answer with confusion

“Well, you have to tell me a number so I can tell the teams.” Now he’s getting impatient with me.

“You are the agent, aren’t you supposed to tell me?”

Now, I am getting aggravated.

“But, I work for you.”

“Yeah, but this is my first experience how am I supposed to know?

“Jason, tell me what to tell them!”

He’s getting angry with me, I couldn’t believe it. This guy is getting frustrated with a 17 year old kid, because I could not put a number on my life and my baseball talent. I hung up the phone, infuriated. That’s when the Xbox controller went through the TV.

“What’s wrong, Jay” My parents came in utterly confused.”

“Mom, this guy wants me to put a number on my life, I don’t know, I don’t even want to be drafted anymore, I just want to go to college.”

My Draft Story

A week later, I got a phone call from the Kansas City Royals. I was in school. In English. The teacher answered the phone that rang in class.

“Jason, the principal wants to see you,” she said surprised.

I walked into the office, the principal handed me the phone, “It’s for you,” he said.

What is this going to be about, I thought something happened to someone in my family. I was petrified of the person on the other end.

It was my mom: “Jason…” with a tone I’ve never heard before, like my life was about to change after what she was going to tell me.

“Yeah, Mom?!” I’m nervous. I never wanted to be back in English class so badly before.

“The Royals just drafted you in the 7th round, they offered you $1million dollars.”

“Oh my god, they offered me 1 million dollars?!”

I hung up the phone, that’s all she had to say, she started crying and said, “ I will see you at home, babe.”

Is this real? Is really happening to me? I walked back to class in shock, some kid from Bethany, CT where everyone says there are more horses than people, was just offered 1 million to play baseball

After further negotiations and a visit from my future head coach at Vanderbilt University, Tim Corbin, I decided to turn down their offer. An offer of which jumped to $1.5 million.

My First Day In The Minors

Three years later, I am on a bus heading to North Carolina as a member of the Delmarva Shorebirds — the Low-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. It’s my first road trip; it’s my first professional game.

You become accustomed to things, for three years I rode coach buses in college so it wasn’t new, but only if the trip was shorter than six hours. Seven hours or more we literally took a country music star’s sleeper bus to our road trips.

The bus was better than our dorm rooms. Black leather horseshoe couch in the back with two 32 inch TVs, 13 memory foam mattress bunks per bus with TV’s in each bunk (our team was split into two busses), stocked refrigerator — sodas, water, Gatorade and muscle milks, Snacks — animal crackers, peanut butter crackers, and Gatorade protein bars. Everyone got a bed; no one went hungry. It was absolutely the way to travel.

I’m sitting on the bus towards the back with Jerome Pena. He was the same age and had just been drafted out of Texas Christian University, been to the College World Series in 2010 and we had a lot in common — we were “college guys”.

I brought headphones, but how much music do you really want to listen to for an eight-hour trip? I wasn’t hungry because I had just eaten before I got to the stadium prior to our bus report time, but what troubled me was once I got onto the bus: there was nothing but seats. No food, no refrigerator, no amenities, just 40 guys and their thoughts.

I brought chips, but how unsatisfying. I hoped, I prayed we would stop, because I feared starvation. They had a cooler full of waters, but I saw them dump one case of waters inside, so 24 waters for approximately 40 people on this bus. I had to snake one early or else I wouldn’t be able to have one.

Adapt Or Perish

These are the characteristics you must adopt. Its dog eats dog. I was abrasive, but I wasn’t about to get eaten. So, I ran up and I grabbed two waters before we even started moving. One for me and one for Jerome, but I called him, “Pena”. We had been together in instructional league prior to the 2012 season and we instantly formed a bond.

Once we started moving, we started talking — Pena and I.

“Bro” I said. “This is crazy, it’s so different from college.”

“Dude, its unbelievable.” Pena said with immediate understanding.

I am getting uneasy and homesick at this point. We are both nostalgic.

“Well, there isn’t much we can do man, just sit back and relax”, I said.

We both agreed. Pena is the guy you want in a foxhole with you, the guy that makes every situation fun. We feel asleep, I think at one point I was even sleeping on his shoulders because, I had the aisle, and you do what you need to do to find a comfortable position for your body to find rest in.

The Lonely Low A Downgrade

Everyone did the same, the bus got quiet, the cards stop being shuffled, and the iPad’s shut off from, “Subway Surfer”. It was quiet, if you weren’t sleeping you were thinking — what am I doing here. I am a professional baseball player, yet I feel so far away from my dream of playing in the Major Leagues.

We woke up.

“Pena…I think we’re here.”

“Really?! Finally, I’m so tired. I barely slept!”

This is the norm — I assumed, because I felt the same way. We grabbed our stuff, our lives — mostly everything we owned and got off the bus, and waited in line to get our room keys at the Quality Inn — it was cheap. We were just Low-A players. But it was a huge disappointment, I usually stayed at Hiltons, Marriott’s, and Embassy Suites in college, but its Low-A now, I have to get use to that. It became one of my biggest struggles, adjusting. Adjusting to the sights, sounds and personnel.

It was different, we all wanted to do better than one another — even if we won our games, if you didn’t get a hit, you were miserable. Its self-centered, its not a team game anymore. You try, you make it about winning, but its not the same camaraderie as you get when you break a huddle after practice, screaming “OMAHA!.” It wasn’t the same as seeing your brothers next to you, fighting to win, to get Vanderbilt University one game closer to a National Championship.

All things considered, I made friends, I made ever-lasting friends in professional baseball, Jerome Pena is one of them, but every year in college I had 35 brothers on my team and I know they felt the same.

The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life

We stepped out of the hotel the next morning; got on the bus, load everything up for our first game, my first professional game. We pulled to an old stadium, it had great character, brick façade on the outside, lively colors accentuating the home team and I remember stepping off the bus feeling scared and alone. My brothers weren’t with me; I was with strangers. I met these guys a month prior in spring training, it’s hard to create relationships in that time — at least for me it was.

Next, we walked into the stadium on the first base side and I saw a HUGE blue wall all the way around the outfield, as we made our way to our clubhouse on the third base side. The grass was green, infield dirt looked smooth but, the raggedy net behind home plate protecting the fans was what screamed Minor League Baseball. In college we dressed at the hotel and walked into the stadium with our uniforms all ready to go. This was already out of my comfort zone, but I was doing my best to stay afloat.

As we get into the clubhouse, I stopped in my tracks; it was nothing more than an unfinished basement. Literally. I almost called my parents and told them, “I can’t do this — this isn’t for me.” The locker-room was a square, wooden lockers two feet wide, side by side. The floor — concrete, the ductwork was exposed and leaking pipes were dripping onto the floor.

This was a lot for me to handle all at once. I had emotions running through each part of my body, paralyzing emotions: fear, loneliness, negative thoughts, my mind was a hurricane of pessimism and I was preparing to go out and face professional pitching as one of the organizations top prospects.

The Take Away

How do I perform up to expectations? It’s baseball, a job now — I should be lucky, but there was more to it for me. I was struggling with everything off the field and on the field all at once. These are the obstacles the general public doesn’t see, doesn’t understand and to a certain degree find it hard to relate to.

It’s not glamorous or glorious, but it’s a chance, an opportunity for growth like any other job. You work hard, you produce, you succeed — you get to the next level. It’s not given, its earned. I — we as Minor Leaguers deserved the PBJ’s, the long bus rides, the cheap hotels, right now. I deserved it, because I needed to earn that respect and the ultimate title of a Major League Baseball player because those that came before me did and those that will come after me must.

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