• Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023

Food For the Hungry

Because So Much Is Riding On Your Food For the Hungry

In extended spring training, minor leaguers lament lack of pay: ‘Just a mess’

Every major league team holds what’s known as extended spring training, called “extended” for short. It’s a setting that’s out of sight and mind for most people following the sport, save perhaps for those who religiously watch player development. But extended is often a crucial and difficult step for young players, particularly those from Latin America, who heavily populate extended rosters.

In a change from just a couple years ago, most major league teams pay their players a salary during extended, a period when players both train and play games. But five teams did not pay this year, according to the non-profit Advocates for Minor Leaguers, which identified the A’s, Angels, Brewers, Marlins and Reds as those clubs.

“You think that you’re in hell because first thing is, it’s hot, it’s really hot,” said a player who spent time in extended in recent seasons. “Doesn’t matter if you’re in Florida or you’re in Arizona, it’s hot. And there’s a lot of people. So you don’t get a lot of playing time, or a lot of playing opportunity, so you’re dealing with a stress. You are just starting your career.

“You don’t make enough money to eat because it’s not even enough money just to eat. … So dealing with all that stress and not being able to eat good, it’s just, nobody likes to be in extended. You can ask anybody. If you’ve been once in extended, you will never want to be back.”

During extended, all teams provide players with housing and some food at the complex. But for those without a salary, players in extended sometimes have pooled their money together for groceries, as they were provided a small amount of meal money.

“It was $20 a day,” said the same player, who did not receive a salary during his time in extended. “The $20 was to eat dinner because they (the team) would give you breakfast and then lunch. But like sometimes, their lunch was a sandwich. So whenever you get back from the game and then by 8 or 9 p.m., you’ll be hungry again. … You don’t even have a car, so you have to go over it. Every meal on UberEats and Doordash is like $20 or $25 dollars each meal. So you’re spending like maybe $30 a day in meals and you’re only getting $20 back.”

When spring training concluded this year, most players were assigned to a club that plays a full-season schedule, be that the major league team or one of the typical levels of the minor leagues, Triple A down through Single A. But each major league team also kept dozens of players at its complex in Florida or Arizona for extended, where the players trained and played games in April and May, often focusing on specific skills. Then in June, most of those players moved into a Rookie-level league held out of those same complexes, where a salary is required. (In Florida, for example, this used to be known as the Gulf Coast League, and is now called the Florida Complex League.)

Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, said that in 2021, his organization surveyed minor leaguers and found that about two-thirds of major league teams were not paying a salary to players in extended spring training beyond meal money. This created a scenario where players assigned to extended were only receiving salaries for roughly three months out of the year. With no salary in the offseason, during spring training or during extended, the only time some players had a formal salary was during the complex league schedule. The current salary scale for complex leagues, set by the major league clubs, is $400 per week.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers started to press the issue publicly, which Marino said helped produce quick change — the Giants, Mets, Nationals and Red Sox were among teams that changed their policy to pay players a complex-league level salary during extended spring training and also provide back pay for the 2021 season.

The Orioles, a team official said, paid players this year starting with the first game in extended spring training, on April 21.

What teams are legally required to pay players during extended is part of a long-running class-action lawsuit, known as Senne vs. the Commissioner’s Office, which is in settlement talks right now.

So clearly, what we’ve seen is just based upon our raising awareness and providing accountability over what teams are actually doing, the norm has shifted from not paying a year ago, to paying this year,” Marino said. “But there are still these handful of holdout teams that are not paying players in extended, as a result of which, there are still some players in the minor leagues this season that are on track to make less than $5,000 for the entire year.”

Three of the five teams identified by Advocates as providing no salary in extended, the A’s, Brewers and Reds, did not reply to a request for comment. The Angels declined comment.

“We have made significant investments and enhancements for our team members throughout our player development system, including a recent increased focus on compensation, housing, nutrition, education, mental health resources, and more,” a Marlins spokesperson said in a statement. “As with any aspect of our business, we are constantly reviewing as to how we can continue to elevate the experience and work environment for all members of our organization.”

Said Marino: “There’s absolutely no excuse for these five teams to continue to refuse to pay their lowest-paid employees for months of work.”

Every team’s roster is different, but the composition of extended spring training rosters is predominantly Latin American.

“When we look at the demographics of the players on extended spring training rosters, whether that be racial, educational or otherwise, it’s clear that MLB teams are taking advantage of a particularly precariously positioned group of players by not paying extended spring training salaries, and that is very problematic,” Marino said.

The Athletic interviewed four players who were either in extended spring training this season or in recent years, including two players from Latin America. Both felt that MLB clubs were taking advantage of players coming from afar.

“When you are 19, 18, you don’t have enough money to buy a car here. And like, you don’t know how to speak English, you don’t know anybody and you’re stuck in a hotel and you don’t know where to go,” said one player from Latin America. “So there’ll be guys, they go to Walmart and buy a bunch of bread, bread and ham and cheese almost every night, for a professional athlete. We used to do that all the time, maybe four, three times a week so you can get a good meal with the meal money they gave you.”

MLB did not respond to a request for comment.

Another player from Latin America said he feels he’s participating in a system “kind of like the Hunger Games.”

“Just make your way through it and if you win, you get the big prize, making it to the big leagues,” he said. “You get the lifestyle you’ve been dreaming of. If not, the team just sees that they don’t require your services, it’s bye bye, just like that.

“I got cases of friends that as soon as they got the money they would go straight to Western Union, send around $80 to their families back home, $90, just stay with whatever was left and just buy a lot of Chipotle. Try to get as much rice as they can and try to save it for a couple days living in their room.”

The lack of a salary hampered players in different ways. Many players sign for small singing bonuses, and all have other bills and worries besides just food.

“The one good thing is, we’re able to eat at the complex,” a player who was in extended spring this season said. “But as far as just food you have in your apartment and stuff, if you get hungry during the night and stuff like that, that money will definitely go fast. And it’s not just about food-wise. Some people didn’t really sign for anything.”

The lack of pay contributes to attrition in the sport, one player said.

“They figure out that we aren’t actually making minimum wage here,” he said of fellow players. “They can make more money just being DoorDash (workers) or just working on construction. That’s why you get a lot of players that they just decide to quit baseball that have a lot of potential. It’s just sad, but I totally understand: they got responsibilities, they got family they gotta take care of. Most talks between us are, just kids dreaming of how things would be when we make it to the big leagues and how we would do this and we would do that, how we would help this guy or the other. Just a mess.”

A player with the Mets who received back pay for his time in extended in 2021 noted how easy it seemed to be for a team to make a change.

“I was extremely happy to see that that money was going to come back,” the player said. “I wasn’t really aware when I was going into spring training, into extended spring training, that I wasn’t going to get paid, so it was kind of a relief to see that. Especially having an apartment that I was paying for. It happened overnight on direct deposit. It happened really easily, quickly, and then I was able to pay some things off, too.”

The four players said they hope that clubs change their practice and ensure players in extended spring training are paid moving forward.

“The only thing that is having me in the game right now is to chase my dream,” said one of the players. “Sometimes I wake up and I’m like, ‘What the fuck am I doing? Am I doing the right thing?’”


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