Congratulations on finishing up your first season in the minors. After a long college/high school year followed by this dip spit-scented slog through the bush leagues, you really do deserve a break.
However, before you cram your team bag full logoed trinkets for mom and dad to squeal over, take a moment to plan your approach to the off-season.
Not to spook you, but, more players from your draft class will get released in the coming season than any other. Your rookie campaign—unless you’re some star prospect with gobs of money next to your name—really doesn’t earn you much organizational cred. The year you’re heading into will be the one in which the organization decides if you’re a roster filler (someone to keep around so the other players have a full team to play on) a super roster filler(you might play at the higher levels, maybe even the big leagues), a prospect (you are a name often referenced in future big league plans) or deadweight that needs to be dropped as soon as the release letter gets printed.
Managing your use of the off-season is just as important, if not more important, than how you manage your time in season. After all, the in season is dictated to you. You have coaches, schedules, gyms, fields, equipment—everything you need to get and stay in baseball shape. In the off-season, however, it all disappears, and you’ll find that even simple baseball tasks, like playing a game of catch, can involve serious logistical hoop-jumping.
If you haven’t thought much about what is coming, you wouldn’t be the first. Most of you will go back to your roots, maybe crash land at your parent’s house, a relative’s, or a friend’s. You’ll train at your former college or high school. You’ll stay up late, sleep in late, and life will revolve around working out and getting ready for next baseball season. You’ll get around to it. Besides, you’re a pro, so what else matters, right?
Don’t underestimate the power of inertia. Once you get home and make the rounds, telling everyone what it’s really like to be a pro and getting your pats on the back, you’ll be startled by how daunting a lack of structure can be. Your best bet is to contact your former coaches and trainers now (they’ll want to hear about how its going anyway) and ask them what players before you have done in the off-seasons, and if they have any advice.
For players off-seasoning in cold weather locations—especially pitchers—finding an indoor place to throw is a pain. How close are you to a field house? Will the local grade school let you come in and throw in the gyms? Do you have a friend with a heated barn? Are there any baseball academies that would let you workout in exchange for an endorsement? What the hell do you do for a pitching mound?
Make a list. Make some calls. Make a plan.
Speaking of baseball academies, have you thought about giving lessons yet? Don’t worry, you will.
The minor league life only pays you when you’re on a minor league field. If you got a teensy signing bonus, you’ll need to know where your next paycheck is coming from. I mean, nothing says “professional athlete” like asking your parents for date money and help with groceries, right?
You’ll need a source of income if you want to have any semblance of a life, which means you need a job. The easiest money will be giving baseball lessons to local kids hoping to be the next you. You’re a pro now, so you should charge a rate that reflects such, but not one that prices you out of the local market.
If you live in a big city, you can charge more. If you’re in a rural, small town situation, sorry, you’ll have to charge a little less. Don’t sweat the earnings, even if their relatively low—you’re most likely making 5 to 6 times what you would in any other seasonal work, and you get to play catch while doing it.
Lessons are definitely the way to go, but don’t assume you’ll just come home and start doing them. You need to think about where you’ll do them and how you’ll advertise yourself.
It takes a while to build up your lessons business as A) most kids will still be in some sports league or another at the time you get done with your season, and, B) They wont know who you are if you don’t advertise.
Here’s a tip: Ask your current front office marketing crew for some pictures of yourself in action. Action shots, promotional footage, positive write-ups, etc. It’s always good to have a collection of your media and write-ups so you can show people who you and how good you are. If you’re really tight with that front office, ask their resident graphics guru to make you a flyer so you have something to send to your connections at home before you get there.
If it all feels a little funny—selling your skills— don’t laugh. You’re already doing it. More over, this is your world now; convincing people that you’re good through numbers and media write-ups. You can either hate it and work at Circuit City this off-season, or, embrace it and make $60 an hour teaching kids how to throw baseball’s through a hula-hoop at 60 paces. You choose.
Finally, if you’re not stealing from your team, you should be. Every day from this one to the end of the season, you need to take at least one baseball from the batting practice bucket, pitcher’s bag, or infielder’s catch-clutch. Anyplace you can find an unwatched baseball, take said baseball.
Fact: baseballs are flipping expensive and you will need them during the off-season. Your team will not provide them to you. I remember my first season, one in which my team gave me a box of balls to take home. Next season it was one ball to take home. The next season it was no balls to take home. It’s not organizational policy to give baseballs out. If it happens, it’s because the coaches took mercy on you.
Steal them— It’s the only way to be sure. If you don’t, you’re an idiot.
An industrious few of will go back to school to try and finish a portion of your degree while shadowing the schedule of your former college team. This is smart.
A slothful few of you will turn into complete slobs, spend your bonus on stupid garbage, and watch your career succumb to the lack of structure in your lives. This is dumb. If this is you, YOU are dumb. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity wasted…
The rest of you will fall somewhere in between and find this time to be the first in which you really are, supposedly, a member of the adult world. You’ll find that membership isn’t that heavy of a burden so long as you keep your wits about you, think ahead, and make some solid plans.
Remember, your first responsibility is to your career, but that doesn’t mean you get to be a deadbeat, directionless loser until the following spring training comes simply because you’re staying in shape. The off-season is not the time between seasons; it’s the time in which you get to make yourself better. Don’t mistake that to mean only in the baseball sense.
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