Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Toiling in the Minors

On certain afternoons over the last week, I have detected a hint of spring in the breeze.  That breeze, coupled with the fact that spring training has begun in earnest down in Florida and Arizona, has put baseball on my brain.

Around this time last year, I wrote about how how baseball terms are used as metaphors in life ("bush league," "hit a home run," "two strikes against you," etc.) but I forgot one crucial baseball catchphrase: "toiling in the minors."  When I player who breaks into the big leagues later in his career gets his call-up, the announcers and scribes will invariable say that this player "toiled in the minors."  Notice, they do not say "played in" the minors, and that's with good reason.

I know from reading first hand accounts by players like Dirk Hayhurst that the minor leagues are brutal.  Players don't make enough money to live on year 'round, are forced to travel by bus, and to stay in cheap hotels and eat substandard food.  They are constantly trying to prove themselves, and are competing for major league jobs against their fellow teammates, which obviously makes it hard to form lasting friendships.  One too many mistakes and you blow your chance for the bigs, or are cut outright, which means every game is a life or death struggle.

Minor leaguers who get the call-up invariable talk of being awestruck by the high-life treatment that even the lowliest players at that level get.  The minimum salary in the majors pays many players more in a month than they make in a season in the minors.  Big leaguers don't have to carry their own bags, they get all the five star amenities, and are generally treated like royalty.

Of course, the vast majority of players who sign contracts with major league teams never make it to the promised land.  A large number of those who make it don't stay too long.  Is that state of affairs really all that different than the one most of us most live through ourselves on a day-to-day basis?  We all hope for a spot in the majors, but we spend most, if not all of our lives toiling in the minors, worrying about paying the bills and holding down a job while the prospect of getting the call-up to the major leagues gets dimmer with each passing season.

1 comment:

Nicholas Koerner said...

W.H. I think you are right on this one. I am finishing up my undergrad and this whole time I have had the feeling that I am being hazed. I got my call up to the majors in that I got into a prestigious grad school but even that is just more years riding the bench hoping that I can prove myself enough to be starter.

I really like that phrase too. It connotes a real sense of hardship, but also a glimmer of hope. When I hear "toiling" I think of the poor farmer trying hard to keep the farm and sweating it out under the sun. It's a very evocative word.

I will have to slip that phrase into one of my future dry and erudite political theory papers.