Sure, Major League Baseball players live glamorous lifestyles. They make millions playing the game that they love, date beautiful women, travel the world, as well as share a camaraderie with hundreds of other players doing the exact same things. But few fans know about the perseverance they endured to get where they are.
This grind has a name and its called the Minor Leagues. This article allows former Minor Leaguers to give you just a small idea of what their time was like while in the Minor Leagues. As fans of America's favorite pastime, it is important that we all pay tribute to these players who gave their heart and soul but fell just short of reaching their dream. The players that were kind enough to share their stories were Kevin Tolar (1989-2005), Doug Meiners (1992-1998), Joseph Cathey (1997-1999), Tim Collie (1995-1997) and Freddy Acevedo from the Dominican Republic (1999-2004).
1.Which MLB Team were you drafted by?
Kevin Tolar: I was drafted in 1989 in the 9th round by the Chicago White Sox.
Doug Meiners: I was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Freddy Acevedo: We don't get drafted in the Dominican Republic. I signed as a free agent with the Houston Astros organization in 1999.
Tim Collie: I was drafted in 1995 by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 24th Round.
Joseph Cathey: I was drafted in the 29th round by the Houston Astros in 1997. Played for the Auburn Doubledays in 1997 and the Quad City River Bandits in 1998. I retired during spring training in 1999.
2. What expenses did the team pay for during the season? Did they pay your rent? Give you grocery money? Pay for flights to see your family?
Kevin Tolar: We received $15 a day for meals but only on road trips. We paid our own rent. There was never a flight home to see family, never had more than 1 to 3 off days a month.
Doug Meiners: The team generally paid for our flights to Spring Training and home at the end of the season. If we played winter ball or were invited to instructional league, they also paid for the flights to and from those destinations. During the season we received money for meals, but only during road trips...it wasn't much, but when in the Minors, anything was helpful. We paid for everything else out of our own pocket -- rent, groceries, cable, etc.
Freddy Acevedo: The team didn't pay for any of our expenses. We were getting paid so we have to cover rent, food, etc on our own. We had to wait until the season was over to go home and they did pay for our flights to come to the states and to go back home when it was time to do so.
Tim Collie: I made about $2k per month, the team did not pay our rent, they did pay for all of our travel expenses. No flights home, no time off the entire year.
Joseph Cathey: You don't make anything in the minors. I was paid $850/month in short season A ball, and $1050/month in Low A, before taxes. The team didn't give any additional money for rent or groceries while we were at home. Most guys live with a family (4 of us lived with a family my first year in Auburn) or together in an apartment (4 of us did the same in Davenport. Back in 1998, the minimum for AA was $1500/month and AAA was $2500/month...I'm sure it's gone up some since then, but nobody is making much for the most part. On the road, we stayed two to a room. Team paid for our hotel and we got meal money on the road (like $25 or so) per day. Definitely no flights to see family...primarily b/c you never have more than one day off at a time (except for the all star break. In 1997 we played 76 games in 79 days...you just don't go home during the season.
3. Did you see any special treatment given to players that a ball club had invested more money in?
Kevin Tolar: Of course you saw favoritism. This is a business and they protected and promoted their investments. Sometimes it was simply understood, and sometimes you had to stop and wonder.
Doug Meiners: I definitely saw a difference between the way players were treated based on the team's investment. Those that we termed as "bonus babies" were certainly given longer to develop than those who were free agent signings, or given very little to sign. They also seemed to be pushed along faster than others -- advancing through the minors faster than those who may have put up better numbers or had a better year. Minor league coaches also seemed to "butter up" to the bonus babies a little more
Freddy Acevedo: I didn't think it was favoritism, I always thought of it as a way to get the money you invested in that player. The money secures you to move up faster throughout the farm system and guarantee you to get more opportunities in the minors.
Tim Collie: Of course, the more money invested in you, the more chances you got when you failed. It sucks. But that's how it is. As a former NCAA All-American, it was frustrating having to always be perfect while it was ok when other players struggled.
Joseph Cathey: Of course you see special treatment and favoritism - it happens with every team at every level. If a team invests $1 million in a player, you can bet he's going to start even if there is a 15th round draft pick who is more talented. Now, if you are good enough for long enough you will keep moving up...but it's a lot easier to do so as a high draft pick than as a low one. I'm not saying that simply because I was a low-round draft pick. I saw it in situations not affecting me and from all my friends playing in the minors for other teams.
4. Do you feel that politics effected your playing career in any way?
Kevin Tolar: This is a great question with an obvious answer. Politics plays a huge role in baseball, business, and life. Two guys have the same numbers and ability, who gets the call? The one who either has the most invested in them or the one that the organization likes more. There is also a valid part that is normally overlooked when this subject comes up and that is the organizations opinion of the players future ceiling. Opinions are sometimes right and quite often can be wrong. Then it comes down to the two things you always hear, right place/right time, and who you know! As a disclaimer, a player can overcome the politics and force an organization's hand from time to time and simply do so well they have no choice but to give an opportunity.
Doug Meiners: I think politics are always at play on some level, but I don't really feel like they affected my career. For the most part, I feel like I was treated fairly.
Freddy Acevedo: Not at all, the organization was very fair to me and I have nothing to say but thanks for the opportunity they gave me to play professional baseball.
Tim Collie: Politics are huge, the biggest issue is how much credibility your scout has in organization. If the organization trusts the scout who found you, then that goes a long way!
Joseph Cathey: Politics effect your career primarily based on what I touched on in #3...which round you are drafted and how much money is invested in you. A third reason might be if a high ranking person in the organization has vouched for you and his reputation is tied into your upward movement. In terms of not progressing because people don't like you - I don't think it happens too much, although I'm sure it happens to a degree just like in the rest of society. However, the goal is to win, and usually short term politics are set aside for winning. Managers don't move up if they don't win, so they're going to play the best players (unless they're being dictated differently from above b/c of #3). So I'd say politics plays a role, but not much differently than in the rest of society.
5. What was the most memorable experience of your career?
Kevin Tolar: My most memorable experience was at the end of the 2000 season. I was a free agent, struggling to find a job after the 1999 season. I signed with the Detroit Tigers and had to start in AA. I got promoted to AAA after about 3 weeks. At the end of the season I got summoned to the manager's office. They congratulated me on a great season and asked me what I had planned for the off-season. My car had broken down in the Holiday Inn parking lot. So my response was to hang around until I got my car fixed. Then go home and hopefully get in some fishing and play with my kids. The manager told me that the manager of the Tigers wanted me to know he had noticed how well I had done and the organization had appreciated my contributions. He then told me that I needed to go rent a nice car because I had 6 hours to be in Detroit. It didn't register that I had been called up, the garage that was going to fix may car was in walking distance of the hotel. The manager said, "I don't think you quite understand, they need a second lefty for September and you might not want to be late for your first day in the big leagues". It then registered, and I thanked them very quickly and went outside to have a few minutes of alone time. It had been 11 years of grinding and fighting and it finally happened. And yes, there were tears.
Doug Meiners: That's tough. If you mean one game, there are a couple things that stick out. In 1993, pitching in St. Catherines Canada, I pitched a shutout, facing the minimum (27 batters). I gave up 2 hits and one walk but on each occasion the following batter hit into a double play. The game lasted one hour and 48 minutes.. During a game in 1994 in Asheville, NC I pitched a game where I had a fastball I never had before or had after. Normally, I was consistently between 88-91, but on that day I was throwing consistently in the mid 90's. I have no idea why but I did throw a 3 hit shutout. Playing in the Arizona Fall League was an incredible experience knowing that I was playing with and against MLB's top prospects. There are certain achievements that I will never forget -- being named organizational pitcher of the month in April of 94, earning pitcher of the week in the Arizona Fall League.
Freddy Acevedo: My most memorable experiences was when my parents came to the states to watch me play for the first time and I hit a home run in that first game. I thank God for letting me do that for them.
Tim Collie: Striking out the side in the 1996 SAL All-Star Game, Adrian Beltre was my third baseman in that game. It was also neat when I was in the Durham Bulls dugout pre-game and Ernie Banks approached me wondering where my coach was. I was tongue-tied to say the least.
Joseph Cathey: The primary memories are just spending time with my teammates, they always cracked me up and made me laugh. The most positive memory was hitting my first home run (I only hit 2) way out of the park in Iowa. I think I stunned everyone including myself. My most negative memory was when I was 3 innings away from tying the errorless streak for consecutive errorless games by a SS in League history and I made an error....exactly in the manner my 2B (current big leaguer Aaron Miles) told me before the game that he had dreamed of me making the error.
6. What was the low point of your minor league career?
Kevin Tolar: The low point of my career was getting released a couple days after spring training in 1994. I had hurt my arm during that spring and knew it would end up in surgery. They called me in and told me I had a "bum" arm and they were letting me go. After making sure they were going to pay for my surgery, I was left wondering and fearing if I would ever pitch again. That fear lasted an entire year as I had surgery and began rehabbing alone with no job. The entire time I was wondering if I did manage to get healthy again if a organization would take a chance on me. That was pretty tough.
Doug Meiners: Not being able to stay healthy. I've had a total of 5 surgeries, 4 on my pitching arm.
Freddy Acevedo: I'm not sure if you're asking about personal life or while playing on the field. The low point for me was always being away from my family and missing all of those special times we used to have together. Baseball is great but I never had time to do anything else.
Tim Collie: Getting the knock on my door at 7am during spring training. I knew it was over...
Joseph Cathey: The low point was battling for the starting SS job in High A with a high round draft pick, outplaying him on both defense and offense, and having him be named the starting SS. I was given a ticket back to the Midwest League. Disillusioned, I decided to retire. Walking out of the minor league complex for the last time was my worst memory.
7. Did you travel to games by plane or bus primarily?
Kevin Tolar: Well everyone used buses for all levels of the minor leagues until you reached AAA. And yes, they sucked. 6'3" 240lbs cooped up for sometimes 15 hours, not fun. Then 2 hours before the game, on the bus again, less fun. By the 7th inning, and having to get stretched out and ready in case I had to pitch, no fun. Bed after dinner that night, that was heaven.
Doug Meiners: We traveled to every game by bus in the minor leagues. I played winter ball in Australia and we traveled by plane in that league.
Freddy Acevedo: We took the bus. It wasn't really fun when we had a 12 hour trip, but you get used to it really quick.
Tim Collie: All bus. Lots of bus trips.
Joseph Cathey: All bus. I'm not sure if there are any A teams that travel by plane. Mainly because A leagues tend to be closer together geographically, and also because it's cheaper. AA and AAA teams often travel by plane. Of course this meant a LOT of time spent on the bus with your teammates. Thank god we all got along and spent our time playing cards, bs-ing, watching movies and (at least for me) reading books. Apparently if you choose to read a book this makes you a genius in the eyes of your teammates....at least on my team. The worst trips were the closer cities, because instead of driving 4 hours and then staying overnight, you drove 1.5-2 hours to and from, then did the same the following night. Wears on you after a while.
8. Were there ever any times where you felt like you deserved a promotion to the next level more than another player?
Kevin Tolar: LOL, well I think if you asked 100 players anonymously, 90 would say yes, 9 would lie and 1 realized he was over-matched. I think I will plead the 5th and let my numbers answer that one.
Doug Meiners: I don't think I saw a place where a player got promoted when I thought I should have. In 1997 I was playing in AA and I was supposed to get moved up to AAA after one of my starts, towards the end of the first half but got hurt while warming up, so they sent Roy Halladay up instead. It was frustrating because I was having a much better season than him up to that point, and hoped I would get moved up after becoming healthy and pitching again.They left Halladay up and kept me at AA but I understood the dynamics of it all. I ended up struggling with my health the rest of the year anyway, and had a horrific second half.
Freddy Acevedo: Not really. Nothing that comes to mind.
Tim Collie: Yes, I had dominated at the A level, and was ready for AA, but I got cut during spring training.
Joseph Cathey: In 1998, I was a superior defensive player to my competitor, but he had a more impressive 1998 season than I had (he was in short-season A). Looking back, I would have made the same decision the Astros did. I just wish I hadn't been told I was being given the chance to compete for the job when I wasn't. If that had been the case, I likely would have played another season as the starting SS in the Midwest League. So at the time I thought I should have been promoted by outplaying him during spring training (I hit like .330 and made 1 error while he hit less than .150 and made plenty of errors). But looking back, I understand and agree with the decision made.
9. How much attention did the Major League affiliate pay towards your progress? In other words, is the organization as a whole like one big family or does it feel distant? (Rookie, A, AA, AAA, )
Kevin Tolar: Very distant at the lower levels. Then as you have success, closer and closer. Never as close as you would think, however, even at the AAA level. Some organizations are much better than others, in my experience. The top 10 or so organizational prospects did garner more communication and attention. Probably made it seem more distant the further down the totem pole you saw yourself.
Doug Meiners: I felt like the organization was good to me and treated me well. The major league players and coaches seemed distant to me...they didn't interact much with the minor leaguers. However, the front office was very involved. To this day I still talk to Bob Engle, who was the Asst. GM for the Blue Jays and is currently the Director of international scouting for the Mariners...and I have spoken some with Pat Gillick over the years who was our GM my first few years.
Freddy Acevedo: The Major League club doesn't get involved with the Minors that much. They have people in charge of the minors that give them daily reports on what's happening down in the minors. They have roving coaches that get into one on one sessions with the minor league players but nobody comes from the majors. Its like two different worlds, but they are both pulling for the same thing.
Tim Collie: I think it varies from organization to organization. There was not a family feel in the Pirates Organization.
Joseph Cathey: Anybody who thinks any organization is a big family is delusional, but that doesn't mean you don't have people - both on your team and in the front office - who care about you. I felt very close with my teammates-even the other middle infielders, they were my best friends. When you're going through things day in and day out you feel exactly like a family. The team is the family, not the organization. The front office guys try to remain relatively distant, but some succeed more than others. Our head of the minor leagues was really approachable and genuine, while his assistant was the opposite. Coaches and managers tend to treat players well across class levels. If I found myself taking ground balls in spring training with the AA and AAA shortstops, the coaches treated me just like they treated them and I appreciated that. (especially when it was Carlos Guillen, Julio Lugo and myself...two top prospects and me. Note: Guillen is ungodly smooth and really nice. Lugo....no comment.)
10. What are you doing now and was it hard to transition away from baseball?
Kevin Tolar: I played 19 years and had aches and pains by the time I walked away from the game. I missed it far less than all of my close friends did when their careers ended. I kinda looked forward to the challenges that life after baseball would bring. I admit it has been tougher than I thought, but baseball prepared me in one way very well, I never quit. If you are not good enough, or knowledgeable enough, skilled enough or experienced enough, you simply work harder and longer and become so determined that failure is not even an option. If by chance you do fail, you get up and start again. Character is not about anything other than who you are and how you respond when you are having to get up off your rear end.
Doug Meiners: I am currently driving a truck into Philadelphia every day. I drove trucks while I worked my way through college after I retired from baseball. I was laid off a couple of years ago when I was a mortgage banker. Even though I already had a Bachelor's Degree, I went back to school after that, mostly because our state was paying part of it for the unemployed. The economy is just really bad and I
haven't been able to find anything, so I'm back to driving until I can find something else.
Freddy Acevedo: I'm the hitting coach at Asbury University, also, I run tournaments at Memorial Sports Complex and do private baseball lessons at MSC baseball School. The transition was hard and I miss playing but I also like that I have more freedom to enjoy my family and be around for those special occasions.
Tim Collie: I now work for Stanley Tools as a regional sales manager. Yes, I miss baseball everyday. Hardest part is seeing old teammates and guys you were better than making millions (I won't name names, lol) Overall, I miss it greatly. I enjoy teaching fast pitch softball to my daughter now.
Joseph Cathey: I'm an attorney practicing litigation in Houston. I spent 3 years in DC as a paralegal, 3 years of law school at UT-Austin, and 5 years practicing law in Austin. You never leave the game of baseball mentally. I still have dreams that I'm playing, be it in college and minors and I miss the competition terribly. Nothing I do in the law will ever match the thrill of making a diving play up the middle and throwing out a runner by a step. To be honest, I still don't enjoy going to minor league games. Each time I go, I know I could have achieved more and something dark shadows me. I love going to big league parks though - probably because even when I was playing it seemed so far away. The best part about the Minor Leagues though was my teammates and friends whom I still keep in touch with.
A special thanks to the players for taking the time to participate. Anyone interested in reading up on the stats and biographies of these former players can do so at http://www.TheBaseballCube.com.
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