This is going to be the best blog entry ever. Because it’s an interview with Chris Hayes.
If that “lede” (and yes, that’s how it’s spelled) sounds at all familiar, it’s because you were one of the many who loved the Kansas City Royals’ relief prospect’s guest blog entry this past fall when he was pitching for the Surprise Rafters in the Arizona Fall League.
We (okay, Jonathan Mayo) had the idea of running separate blogs for each of the 30 organizations, with one AFL player from each team designated the “primary” blogger but in hopes that their teammates would pitch in with guest blogs.
Hayes’ entry went down in history as one of the funniest things on MLBlogs in 2008, bar none.
The Northwestern University grad conducted a mock … very mock … as in he made the whole thing up … interview with uberprospect Matt Wieters, his teammate and occasional battery-mate with Surprise.
If you’re reading my blog, you know who Matt Wieters is. The catcher of the future, the very near future, with the Baltimore Orioles, one of the best prospects in the game and also one of the nicest.
But still, when Hayes got the idea to handle his guest blog entry this way, none of his bullpen buddies thought he’d actually go through with it.
“I told everyone in the bullpen my idea and they all said, ‘no way, you can’t do it, it would be hilarious but you won’t do it,'” recalled Hayes, who got Wieters’ full permission before he wrote the entry. “He’s a super-nice guy, really laid back, and I think he thought I was a weirdo anyway.”
Hayes, a submarine-style who signed with the Royals in 2006 out of a tryout camp a year after receiving his degree in computer science from Northwestern, pretty much forgot about the blog entry once he hit “send,” until the kudos started pouring in.
“I was surprised because when I was writing it, I thought no one would read it,” said Hayes, who added he is still actively receiving responses from people who read the sole entry. “It’s kind of flattering but I also wish people knew me for being a baseball player.”
That shouldn’t take long, if he continues to put up the numbers he’s been posting of late.
Working in relief for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the Double-A Texas League, Hayes posted a 1.64 ERA in 40 games out of the pen, collecting 12 saves and striking out 39 batters in 65 2/3 innings while walking 13. He ranked fifth in the league (and second in the Royals organization) in saves, second in runners allowed per nine innings (8.63).
Undrafted out of Northwestern, the now-26-year-old began his pro career pitching in 2005 for the Windy City ThunderBolts, an independent league team in his hometown Chicago. He caught the eye of a few scouts who invited him to come to Arizona that winter for their invitation-only tryouts.
While he didn’t make the initial cut at his first tryout, while leaving the stadium a fellow player asked if he’d be going to the Royals’ open tryout later that week. Hayes hadn’t heard anything about it but figured as long as he was in town, why not?
Out of just under 100 prospective players, Hayes was one of four invited to stick around and let the team get a second look at him, and the next day he received a call asking him to sign with the team.
He spent his first two seasons, 2006-2007, at Class A Burlington, posting a 2.79 ERA in 45 games in his debut and a 3.10 in 42 in ’07 before moving up to Double-A in 2008.
And the ever-burgeoning squad of Chris Hayes fan can rejoice. Not only will they get to see their new hero pitch in 2009, they’ll also get to read his blog entries on a more regular basis, as he will be a regular blogger here at GotMiLB.
GotMiLB: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
Hayes: Getting married would be one of them, graduating college, and then getting signed was obviously something I was excited about because I wasn’t drafted.
GotMiLB: What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t playing baseball?
Hayes: That’s a good question. I was a computer science major and pretty much everyone I graduated with went off to Seattle and worked for Microsoft. But I never saw myself doing that, even though I’m trained as a programmer. I couldn’t imagine sitting at a 9-to-5 desk job every day. So maybe something front office-related in baseball that combined my computer science with my love for baseball.
GotMiLB: Everyone has a “hidden talent.” What’s yours?
Hayes: I’m an accomplished chess player. I started when I was a kid and would go to nationals in chess tournaments. But there is a huge time commitment to compete at that level so when I got to high school I scaled down the amount of time I spent studying and playing chess to focus more on sports because I figured I could play chess at any age and baseball, obviously I couldn’t.
GotMiLB: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Hayes: I’ve been lucky that I really haven’t had any bad ones. But when we were in college, we had to clean up the football stadium on Sunday mornings after Saturday football games. 20 people cleaning a stadium that sits 50,000 at 7 in the morning in Chicago.
GotMiLB: Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Hayes: Matt Damon. When I was in school, “Good Will Hunting” came out and I got that relatively often, that I looked exactly like him. It’s funny, his wife actually looks quite a bit like my wife. (GotMiLB note: As you can tell from the pictures, he’s not just blowing smoke up people’s you-know-what. He really does look a lot like Damon. And I haven’t seen a picture of his wife but I’m betting they are America’s cutest couple.)
GotMiLB: Which aspect of life in the minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
Hayes: I think the moving around. The lack of any kind of permanence. Like, my wife and I are trying to register our car and do we register in Illinois? In Arizona? Where did we vote? All the forms ask for current residence when I haven’t had one for years. When you get pots and pans for your wedding, you can’t fit them in the car. Our whole life has to fit in the car.
GotMiLB: Who is the most unusual character you’ve met in your pro baseball career?
Hayes: I could put any left handed pitcher in there. Oh my God, it is absolutely true what they say about them. I’ll go with (2008 Naturals teammate) Tim Hamulack. Physically, he’s an absolute specimen, a freak of nature. You walk into the weight room and the laws of physics don’t apply to him. And he’ll say all this off-the-wall stuff but he’s really intelligent so he can back it up.
With the holidays upon us, I wrote one final MLB.com column for the 2008 calendar year and wanted to “cross-post” it here because it is a topic that has been close to my heart over the 20 years I’ve been covering the Minors …
While I realize that only a small percentage of “my” readers also read stuff like “US Magazine” (or at least are willing to admit it if they do), think of this as my version of their regular feature “Celebrities … they’re just like us!”
Because Minor League baseball players ARE just like us, apart from the fact that even those fighting for the 25th spot on a low-A roster are blessed with more baseball talent than most of us could ever dream of …
But they’re just like us in that they are NOT bazillionaires, not yet anyway.
Sure, the upside is stratospheric but the present? Not so much. They make something along the lines of minimum wage during the season, living on a lot of fast food and clubhouse spreads, spending way too many hours cooped up on buses, hoping to be one of that estimated 10 percent who gets the call to the big leagues.
And during the off-season they’re trying to find that rare job that doesn’t mind that they start in September (or, if they’re playing fall ball, even November) and leave in February or March for spring training.
So here is my holiday card to those guys (and their wives and their kids and their families and friends who support them, financially or emotionally, so they can pursue their dreams);
You can read it on the site at http://www.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/news/.
These are trying times.
Everyone is trying to make ends meet. Trying to stay optimistic about the future. Trying to be grateful for the good things in our lives.
So after last week’s Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the one place synonymous with lavish excess, it’s easy to assume every single guy who plays baseball for a living is raking in a seven-figure salary.
But the majority of pro baseball players are Minor Leaguers who, for the most part, are nowhere near that same economic stratosphere of their big league brethren.
All of them have their eyes on that big prize and those who get to the big leagues, even briefly, will enjoy an outstanding payday.
But in the meantime, there is a reason they call it “the bush leagues.” Here are a few things you may not have known about life in the Minors.
Players get paid only for the months they play (the first week of April through the first week of September) and, until they reach the point in their careers where they can command a “split salary” (which assumes they will spend at least some time in the Majors), most Minor Leaguers below Triple-A make in the area of $1,200-$2000 a month, depending on level and tenure. (The Triple-A salary varies more widely because you have more veterans).
Out of that paycheck, they have to pay rent on their summer living quarters, along with utilities, furniture, food, etc. And, of course, some are still paying mortgages or rent on their apartments or houses back home.
When they’re on the road, their hotel room is paid for (though it’s more likely a Fairfield Inn than the Ritz-Carlton) and they do get meal money, around $25 a day.
But a large chunk of that is required to go to the visiting clubhouse attendant for a dinner “spread” (which, depending on the “clubbie,” can range from a nice home-cooked meal, to lukewarm Domino’s pizza, to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with tongue depressors as utensils).
But maybe the biggest challenge these young men have is trying to save up some money during the offseason.
Ideally, that job will be flexible enough to let them not only work seasonally, but also have time to work out and stay in shape, imperative if they want to be sharp when camp begins.
Some are fortunate enough to have saved up enough from their bonuses or endorsement deals to allow them to use that time to relax with loved ones for a few months … but not all are that lucky.
For the rest, the results vary. Some, those who have managed to earn their college degree, find work in their local school system (has your daughter been talking about the good-looking substitute gym teacher lately? Or, perhaps, her witty chess instructor?).
Longtime veteran infielder Gary Burnham, a former Phillies and Blue Jays farmhand, has spent his last dozen offseasons as both substitute teacher and personal baseball instructor in the Hartford, Conn., area. Luckily, time management is one of his specialties. (GotMiLB note: this is Gary and me at the backfield complex in Dunedin during his Blue Jays days)
“I schedule every lesson and recruit every player myself,” said Burnham, who is as well known in baseball circles for his talent as a portrait artist as his hitting acumen. “It’s not easy but I’ve managed to make it work for the past decade. I always want to close up in mid-February and head to Florida for an early start on Spring Training but it never works out that way because the money is too good during those last couple of weeks.”
One common offseason job has players trading in one uniform for another — donning the famous “brown shorts” to work the Christmas rush for UPS.
Current Oakland Athletics Minor League pitching coach Garvin Alston remembers being one of the Phoenix-area recruits for the company back in the early 1990s, when he was working his way up through the ranks with the Colorado Rockies.
Back home in the cold suburbs of Mount Vernon, N.Y., he got a call from one of his teammates who suggested they head back to Arizona, get into early workout mode and see what they could wrangle up to make some extra money.
Once they got out there, they ran into another teammate, pitcher Marc Kroon, who mentioned that UPS was specifically looking for Minor League ballplayers to be “gift throwers” — the guys who would stand on the back of the trucks and deliver the packages to the doorsteps.
“I studied really hard for the test but they actually gave us the answers so no one would flunk,” Alston said. “We got about three days of training and then we were on the brown vans. They actively recruited us.”
Though Alston no longer dons the shorts in the fall, Boston Red Sox pitching prospect T.J. Large is in his third year working for UPS during the Christmas rush. Before this year, he also used to supplement that income as an after-school group leader/school bus driver at his local YMCA.
White Sox catching prospect Cole Armstrong, who was placed on the organization’s 40-man roster following the 2007 season, has been able to pay the bills just by giving lessons and running camps, but that wasn’t always the case. (Thanks to Rich Darby for this shot of Cole)
The Vancouver, Canada, native, who was acquired by the Sox from Atlanta in the Minor League phase of the 2005 Rule 5 Draft, has had his share of less rewarding offseason jobs, from working at a tree farm to unpacking boxes at Costco.
“You don’t really have a choice because you have the credit card bills you racked up during the season, and car payments to make,” said Armstrong, who made a good impression recently in the Arizona Fall League. “But during baseball season, if you don’t put everything you have into what you’re doing it will have some serious effects.”
The Costco job entailed taking containers off the ship and unpacking items that ranged from massage tables to Christmas ornaments, itemizing them, and then rewrapping them. But that was child’s play compared to the tree farm job.
“We spent eight hours a day outside in Vancouver, barring a blizzard, doing literally nothing more than pulling small trees out of the ground, putting them down beside you, and then going to put them on a tractor,” he recalled. “So that was kind of miserable.”
Still, even before making the 40-man roster, Armstrong considered himself one of the lucky ones.
“When I go home I can live with my parents, but a lot of guys are married and trying to start a family and that gets really difficult,” he said. “I know people who have given themselves up for scientific research for $40-50 a job.”
You do, of course, occasionally have the rare breed, the college graduate with a degree in something that enables him to make decent money on an hourly basis, such as Kansas City Royals pitcher Chris Hayes.
A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in computer science, the sidearming right-hander, who posted a 1.64 ERA this season, returned from the Arizona Fall League around Thanksgiving and has been working on designing and implementing a website for a local Chicago business. That combined with the income derived from his wife’s work as a personal trainer, he knows things could be worse.
The non-drafted free agent signee, with no bonus tucked away in a (now admittedly not quite as valuable) savings account, made some money in 2007 with an even more cerebral sideline: A chess instructor in the Chicago city school system.
“I try to get as much nerd out of me as I can in the offseason and make some money doing it,” he said. “That way I can go back to the world of baseball and do neither of the two for the summer.”
But while Hayes, like so many ballplayers out there, jokes a little ruefully about the economic realities of his current situation, he wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“Minor League Baseball certainly creates an environment where guys are playing because they love the game and they have aspirations of getting to the big leagues,” he said. “In the meantime, it is a bit of a scramble to make it work. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though.”