Tough Times For Everyone

Players struggle to find offseason work




Standing 6-foot-10, sporting a Jackie Moon hairstyle and a Keith Hernandez mustache, Steve Palazzolo doesn't look like a lot of minor leaguers.

However the Giants farmhand finds himself in the same boat as many minor leaguers this offseason, as Palazzolo tries to stretch his meager season's salary over a full year during an economic downturn.

"Trying to make that last $500 paycheck last for another two months," Palazzolo said recently.

Most minor league players earn less than $10,000 for an entire season. These paychecks only come during the season, which makes finding a part-time job in the offseason a matter of survival. Part-time gigs have not been hard to find in past years. Companies have been eager to have a professional athlete on staff, sometimes simply for the trophy value alone. Even if a position weren't readily available, they would often invent one just to have the athlete around.

The situation has been quite different for many minor leaguers this offseason. With the job market now going the way of the old Yankee Stadium—on the verge of implosion—an oasis of part-time jobs is nowhere to be found.

As companies worry more about their bottom line, the jobs that ballplayers depended upon for financial stability have evaporated. Guys who in past years have worked at Macy's are now umpiring Little League games, while others who stocked shelves at Home Depot are now shoveling snow on icy sidewalks.

The Lucky Few

Those who have found work consider themselves fortunate, such as vetern minor league first baseman Cody Ehlers, who spent the last two years at Double-A Trenton (Yankees).

Wintering in Tampa, Ehlers has done a variety of things in past offseasons, including working at a health club. This year, that job was unavailable, and Ehlers was forced to look elsewhere for work.

Fortunately for Ehlers, he found a job rather quickly, only six weeks after the season ended. A new Jimmy Johns sandwich shop was opening in his Tampa neighborhood, and they needed workers. His job: delivering sandwiches.

Ehlers decided to take this job but immediately ran into another problem: He needed a bicycle. The delivery route offered was less than car friendly and was better suited to biking. A bike was something he didn't have, but he found a solution online.

"I went on craigslist.com and found the cheapest one I could find," Ehlers said. "The brakes don't really work, but it gets the job done."

The 2006 Florida State League MVP can now be found rushing sandwiches around Tampa, adhering to the sandwich shop's mantra of "subs so fast, you'll freak." It has provided him with income, which is all minor leaguers are after these days.

"I was really lucky to have this job lined up," Ehlers said. "One of my buddies sent his resume out to practically every place in Tampa and it took forever to find something."

Stretched Thin

Unlike Ehlers, Palazzolo has had to wait longer for a source of income to arrive. In previous offseasons, the giant hurler has relied almost exclusively on giving pitching lessons to young kids with big dreams. Such work is often a staple of a minor league player's offseason, but Palazzolo has even seen a decline in this area.

"In past years, clients have wanted to start in November and go every week," he said. "Now it seems like parents are wanting to wait until January to get started."

Palazzolo has found some parents do have less income with which to operate this year, while others simply want to save a little more.

"It seems that some people are just a little frightened with everything going on. You read things in the press every day and it's on everyone's minds," he said.

The added delay in beginning lessons means that Palazzolo has had to stretch that last $500 check even longer this year. He received his last paycheck from the Giants in early September. With spring training now in sight, his resources are wearing thin.

Like a lot of other players, the 26-year-old Palazzolo has found ways to save on expenses. He's living at home with his parents in Massachusetts this offseason instead of staying with friends and teammates in an apartment. This also means that he's eating his parents' food on a regular basis—a big bonus when you're the size of a small grizzly bear.

In addition to being squeezed by the economic crunch, both Ehlers and Palazzolo share one other important characteristic: neither were bonus babies. In this way, they are like the vast majority of minor leaguers, who lack the ability to tap adequate bank reserves to survive a jobless offseason. Not working is simply not an option.

Ehlers and Palazzolo both consider themselves among the lucky. They have found work and at least have some source of income. This stands in stark contrast to other players who are without any income this offseason—some with families to provide for.

Stories abound of players in grim circumstances, such as one player, who requested anonymity, who had previously relied on work in the construction industry for his non-baseball income. Not only was this job unavailable this winter, but he also recently lost his baseball job. He's now unemployed, still searching for an offseason job, and still searching for a new team.

Several major league farm directors said that they had not heard of players having a difficult time finding work and suffering financial hardship. However, they added that the situation would not be considered a surprise given the current economic climate.

The Not-So Glamorous Life

This dire economic environment puts many players at a disadvantage as spring training approaches. As they worry more about making enough money to cover basic expenses, they have less money to spend on training and an adequate diet.

Many may think that the arrival of spring training would provide players with much needed economic relief. In truth, it only complicates matters. Players do not receive paychecks in spring training, but instead receive only a per diem of around $20 per day.

In past years, minor leaguers relied on savings from offseason jobs to bridge the income gap between the start of spring training and the beginning of the season. This will be much harder to accomplish this season with players bringing in less money in the offseason. Many will be resorting to dreaded credit card debt.

Major League Baseball provided no relief for its farmhands this offseason when it denied a request to increase minor leaguers meal money per diem from $20 to $25. The Boston Globe reported that MLB officials felt that an increase was inappropriate given the current economic climate.

There is a lot of pride gained from following the minor league dream and working toward it. This offseason though, thoughts of signing autographs and playing in front of thousands of people are being cast aside. Thoughts are simply on making enough money to last until early April.

—GARRETT BROSHIUS

Broshius is a 2005 fifth-round pick of the Giants who spent the past three seasons with Double-A Connecticut

BUSINESS BRIEFS

• Low Class A Savannah signed a two-year lease extension for Grayson Stadium through 2010. The club also announced the hiring of veteran minor league official R.C. Reuteman as team president. Reuteman most recently supervised the launch of the Mets' short-season Brooklyn affiliate, which has been one of the top draws in the New York-Penn League since 2001. During his 37-year minor league career, Reuteman has also served as general manager of Triple-A Norfolk (1984-91) and GM of Double-A Binghamton (1991-2000).

• Omaha's new downtown ballpark will play host to professional baseball when it opens in 2011—and the team taking up residence will not be the Triple-A Royals. The city's Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority announced that a team from the independent American Association will call the new 24,000-seat ballpark home—easing concerns that the $140 million ballpark would be dark for all but the two weeks it hosts the College World Series. MECA president and chief executive Roger Dixon estimates the stadium could be in use for 100 days if Creighton University also plays there, the Associated Press reported.