Minor League Jobs Marry Love Of Baseball And Little Pay
It is a statement that those who work at minor league ballparks hear almost every day on the job: "You're so lucky. I wish I could work in baseball."
Most people who do make a living in the sport will grant that they are in fact lucky, because they do enjoy their work. But while a love for baseball may be shared by those who pay to root for the home team and the people who draw paychecks at the ballpark, making a career out of the National Pastime takes that passion to another level.
Long hours, often for little pay, that take you away from loved ones every summer is a requirement for most any job in baseball—whether you're a manager in the dugout, a general manager in the front office or a clubhouse manager. Yet despite the conditions, those who work in the game invariably refer to their careers as dream jobs.
"When you tell them you work 100 hours a week and that you work during the offseason, they look at you a little differently. That's before you tell them that you work 100 hours a week and you don't make a lot of money," said Portland Sea Dogs media-relations director Chris Cameron, who went on to add that he couldn't imagine a different career. "I love the game of baseball and I enjoy going to work. Every morning I get up and go to a baseball field for an office. Getting to know a lot of players before they go on to the (parent club) Red Sox is a rewarding part of the job. But the best part is seeing 7,000 fans have a great time at the ballpark because of what we do. That's rewarding."
To find out what it takes to work in baseball—and what you make doing it—we talked to people who make the games happen 140 nights a year. Though pay is hardly uniform around the sport, interviews with team officials at different classifications helped provide a standard range for a variety of positions.
Much has changed since Dave Rosenfield got his first job in baseball for Class C Bakersfield in 1956. Rosenfield sported the rare title of player/general manager—though most of his duties focused on the latter.
"I had played briefly professionally, though not real well. I had played five years in college, two years in the Navy during the Korean War—I played on a team that won the service championship of the world," said Rosenfield, adding that the lack of a support staff in Bakersfield left little time for the playing field. "I did not have another front-office employee. There was a lady that ran the concessions . . . I did the complete set of books and I answered the telephones. I was a one-man front office."
And for all that, what did Rosenfield earn? "I made $450 a month. And I had to pay my own car expenses."
While there are few around the game who can match the longevity of the 78-year-old Norfolk Tides general manager, many of those who share the same job title today can relate to Rosenfield's career track—starting at the bottom and doing a little bit of everything on their way to the top.
No, they likely didn't work in the Three-I League for Topeka like Rosenfield, who was left with "a house full of furniture and no job" when the circuit folded in 1962. And maybe they can't sympathize with Rosenfield packing up his family and leaving town before deciding if he was going to take the GM job in Waterloo, Iowa—or the assistant GM gig in Norfolk, Va. "I told the moving company to come next Tuesday," Rosenfield recalled. "When they said, 'Where are we taking your furniture?' I said, 'I don't know, I'll call you.' "
Waterloo was too cold, so Rosenfield pushed on to Norfolk—and he has been there ever since.
The stories of minor league executives usually follow the plot line of breaking in as an intern, working for peanuts in the box office or sales, before a director job in another town leads to an assistant GM job elsewhere, before a few more promotions put them in charge of a team.
"If you can make it in baseball, you can make it anywhere," Huntsville Stars GM Buck Rogers said.
He should know. Rogers got his first job in baseball as an entry-level salesman for Fayetteville in 1997. Rogers had just been "another fan sitting in the cheap seats" while he was in the Army and stationed at nearby Fort Bragg, but after he received his medical discharge from the military he approached the team's front office about a job specializing in military sales and marketing. So the team hired him for just under $10,000 a year, before he eventually became a general manager jobs in the Florida State League.
Salaries in the minor leagues have improved over the years, but not a whole lot.
College students or recent graduates looking to gain experience with a full-season team as an intern can expect to earn between $600-$1,000 a month over a five-month season (teams will often pitch in or provide housing). Those smiling employees you see dancing on the dugouts or launching hot dogs into the crowd are typically interns breaking into baseball. Some teams offer internships for college credit, paying a modest stipend (around $25 a game) while giving students access to all areas of the business.
Entry-level positions with a team typically range in salary from $8,000-$24,000, a year depending on the cost of living and the size of the market. As people gain experience and work their way up, salaries begin to climb as well. Director positions usually begin at $25,000 and top out around $50,000—with sales jobs earning extra commissions. Assistant GMs earn between $35,000-$80,000. General managers' salaries usually begin around $45,000, with most Triple-A GMs topping the $100,000 mark.
"You have so many people coming out of college thinking that they are going to make big bucks right from jump street," Rogers said. "You have to understand that you have to get a position. Then you have to prove your net worth, especially when there is a recession.
"This is a seasonal business. You have to bring some creativeness to the table. It's not a normal 9-to-5 job, it's not a Fortune 500 company, it's not even a McDonald's where you're open 365 days a year. You're not going to make big bucks coming into this business. Go get a key position with a team—it may not even be what you want to do. You may have majored in communications, but there is an opening in the team store with a team that you think is a good fit. So you may want to go work in the team store until that communications position opens up."
Getting In At The Ground Floor
Cameron is proof that Rogers' theory works.
Cameron graduated from Southern New Hampshire with a degree in sport management and the goal of landing a media relations job. But when a job opened in the ticket office in Portland, just 30 minutes from his hometown of Brunswick, Cameron jumped at the opportunity.
The Sea Dogs did not have a dedicated media-relations position when Cameron, 33, started in 1999. So he spent two years gaining experience in the ticket office, all the while prodding his GM about the need for a media relations guy (namely him). Two years later Cameron got the job, making around $20,000, and has spent nine years proving he was the right hire for one of the most taxing positions on a team.
On a typical game day, Cameron arrives at the ballpark by 8 a.m. The day is spent updating the team Website, compiling statistics and writing press releases, organizing community programs and coordinating player interviews with the media. Once the game starts that evening, Cameron resides in the press box. He usually returns home a little before midnight, ready to start over again in eight hours.
"If I could choose one job in baseball it would be what I'm doing right now," Cameron said. "In a media relations role, you handle a lot of the baseball information but you also get to see a lot of the business side of the organization as well."
Media relations is among the more popular positions on a staff. But nobody gets rich doing it, with salaries ranging from $20,000-$50,000. One general manager estimated that 90 percent of the 300 resumes he receives a year are for media relations positions.
This is not to say that there is no money to be made in minor league baseball. As is the case in most industries, the higher-paying positions are found in sales. A director of sales making a base salary of $50,000 can often earn six figures after commissions and bonuses are included. One team president in a major market said he earned roughly $250,000 last season including bonuses and incentives.
"If you can sell, you can make money, it's the universal trade," the team president said. "Whether it's baseball or whatever, if you can do that you'll always have a job and always make money. When you start talking about the soft (non-sales) jobs, there are a billion people who want those jobs and who will do them for next to nothing. You've got to be able to understand what the numbers are telling you and how to read those numbers. If you can do that, you can be a general manager in any minor league."
A Triple-A general manager says the top sales people will often make more money than anyone else in the front office.
"No matter what position you're at, entry level or general manager, if you get into the business you do it because you have a love of the game or have a love of the atmosphere," the GM said. "I'm sure it's both. For folks to do it long term, it's a great place to be a part of—any minor league team. It's not like you're selling vacuum cleaners or gadgets. You're selling baseball. That's a unique thing to sell."
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Waiting For A Payday
Beyond the minor league front office are those on the field, all of whom are hoping to make the minor leagues just a stop on their way to the big leagues.
We detail the salaries of minor league players in the accompanying story, but coaches, managers and umpires also struggle with relatively low-paying jobs in hopes of finding a payday down the road. Minor league managers, who almost always are working on one-year contracts with the club's parent organization, typically make between $20,000-$60,000, depending on the level and their experience. Those with experience in the big leagues may get a little bit more.
"No one is making $100,000, I can tell you that," a former longtime minor league manager said.
The pay scale for coaches is even lower, with most making less than $35,000. Major league organizations also employ the trainers for each team, and their pay scale is also low, as low as $15,000 a season for people who typically have master's degrees. Again, supply and demand dictates such low salaries, with so many people clamoring for these jobs.
Umpires may have the hardest road of all, with all the travel and day-to-day demands of players and managers, with lower pay and tougher conditions. Groups of umpires typically travel together in a van and share hotel rooms, and they also earn a starting salary of $9,000 a season, even after the minor league umps went on strike in 2006 to improve their salaries and working conditions.
Watching it all, and caring for all the on-field personnel, is a minor league employee most fans never get a glimpse of: the clubhouse attendant.
Jeff Perro is entering his second season with the Birmingham Barons and has worked as a minor league clubbie off and on since 2001. Though it is a grind taking care of almost every need for a team during the season, from organizing pre- and postgame meals to doing laundry, the offseason is much more difficult.
Like minor league players, Perro's pay ends with the season in September, leaving him in search of offseason work. Perro spent this past offseason waiting tables at a restaurant in Birmingham and picked up extra money around Christmas time by designing marketing fliers for a sandwich shop. Ultimately, Perro wants to be among the clubbies who get jobs in winter leagues, and then head off to spring training when February rolls around. But with 160 minor league teams, roughly half of which employ two clubbies, those jobs are in high demand.
"I love what I do, but I hate the offseason," Perro said.
Having a love for the game is certainly a job requirement for a clubhouse attendant, as 16-hour days are standard during the season. Perro describes his duties as "a little bit of everything," and it is a wide-ranging list: team laundry, budget and prepare the pregame spread and postgame meal, stock clubhouse with shampoo, razors and other toiletries, unpack bags after road trips in the early morning hours, and keep the clubhouse tidy.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Perro's job is how he gets paid. A portion of his salary, roughly $800-$1,000 a month, is paid by the Barons (who are reimbursed by their major league affiliate, the White Sox). Perro then charges each member of the team clubhouse dues of $11 a day. From those dues, Perro purchases the pregame and postgame meals, along with clubhouse supplies. He tries to leave himself roughly $1 a day from each player (plus tips), usually working out to about $50 a game. Perro's goal is to earn about $2,000 a month.
The meals Perro prepares will vary. A typical pregame spread will feature lunch meat and peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. "Some guys have to have a PBJ every game," he says. "I could put out steak and they would say, 'Where is the PBJ?' "
Talking For A Living
Players are not the only ones hoping to rise through the minors and reach the major leagues, however. Broadcasters also endure long hours and even longer bus trips as they work their way up through the minors behind a microphone in hopes of fulfilling a big league dream.
Durham Bulls broadcaster Neil Solondz is entering his 13th season as a professional baseball announcer, including the past seven with the Bulls. He started out calling independent Somerset Patriots games.
As is the case with most minor league broadcasters, Solondz works a day job and gets an extra stipend during the season for his work in the broadcast booth. Solondz does sales, while many broadcasters double as a team's media-relations official. Solondz admits that the bulk of his salary comes from his day job. A typical broadcaster will make around $1,200-$1,500 a month calling games.
"I have been able to make this a success as a full-time opportunity because I am also doing sales and sponsorships for the club," Solondz said. "It enables you to do what you want to do most, which is during the season stay in the booth and dream what players dream—and that is hopefully one day to do major league baseball games."
Pulling double duty makes for long days. During the season, Solondz arrives at the ballpark at 10 a.m. after getting a few hours of quality time in with his two young daughters. He'll focus on his sales job until players and coaches arrive at the ballpark a few hours before gametime, and then glean as much information as possible for his evening broadcast. The workday ends usually an hour after the final out.
Solondz remains hopeful that the long hours will pay off with a call to the big leagues. He sends out roughly 90 recordings of his broadcasts each season, and he's had a few interviews with big league teams.
"The rise to the majors for a broadcaster is different than a player," Solondz said. "The potential of your career is much longer, but you also have to be more patient. A big league broadcaster could be there until they're 80 and only so many jobs open up . . . So it is important to make yourself as diverse as possible and as invaluable to the company as possible."