Just Playin' / Sports

Just Playin’: Baseball’s long odds

browerA New York City tourist walking the streets – and clearly lost – asks a local how to get to Yankee Stadium.

The local looks the tourist squarely in the eye and give a one-word answer: “Practice.”

It’s a joke – sort of.

The road to Yankee Stadium and 29 other big-league ballparks is paved with the sweat and toil of thousands of ballplayers who never made it. There’s no shame in that. The odds of making to a Major League roster are incredibly slim.

How slim?

Consider that there are 5 million kids playing some level of youth baseball this spring.

Of that number, 500,000 will go on to play high school baseball next year. Of that group, 50,000 will find their way to college baseball.

Notice how quickly, the herd thins out from each of those levels?

And that’s not even taking into account the number of international players that are imported annually.

Each year, about 1,000 high school and college-aged 1,000 kids signed to minor-league contracts. It’s then that they begin the longest – and hardest – climb of them all. Few of them will survive the journey through the professional baseball’s minor leagues, which feature about 5,000 players, all of whom are plying their trade at various levels – hoping for an opportunity.

The sad fact is few will get that chance.

Most minor-league players are there to provide competition for the handful of players who the scouts have determined to be the can’t-miss prospects.

Sure, every now and then, an unexpected minor leaguer forces an organization to notice him: Mike Piazza, perhaps baseball’s best hitting catcher ever, was a 62nd round pick. Mark Grace had more hits in the 1990s, was the 622nd player selected in the 1985 June draft.

Heck, at least he was drafted. Hutchinson resident Bob Brower, a two-sport athlete at Duke University, went unpicked in the 1982 draft. He got a tryout with the Texas Rangers. That led to a minor-league contract (with no signing bonus). Four years later, he was a September call-up with the Rangers.

His career lasted all of three years.

Today, he is a vice president for The Boras Corp., a sports agency that oversees the careers of many of baseball’s top young players. Scott Boras represented the top two players selected in last week’s draft – Stanford pitcher Mark Appel and San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant.

Brower now has a front-row seat to the ever-changing world of professional baseball. He experienced it as a player and now he sees it play out in much the same way as an agent.

From either vantage point, the end result is much the same: Baseball is a game in a constant state of flux.

-Pat Sangimino, Just Playin’

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