During this tour, the author is giving away (1) $10 Amazon Gift Card, (2) $5 Amazon Gift Cards, (2) e-book copies of EMPTY SEATS & (1) copy of the author’s acclaimed “SINGING ALONG WITH THE RADIO” CD which features many prominent folk music singers (a $15 value)! For your chance to win, all you have to do is leave a comment below as well as leaving a comment on the author’s 4WillsPub tour page. GOOD LUCK!
Day Five (Empty Seats)
The Minor League Life
Empty Seats provides a glimpse into the life of a minor-league baseball player in 1972.
But what’s changed in the 48 years since then?
Some minor-league players at the lower levels still stay in private homes, close to the ballparks where they play. They still travel by bus from game to game. Today’s buses are at least air-conditioned and some even have rest rooms on board.
What has not changed, however, is the grueling competition these young men face for very little money, on the outside chance that they may be good enough to play in the big leagues.
When a youngster starts playing baseball at an early age and is bitten by the “bug,” and starts to work even as a seven- or eight-year old, dreaming of the day when he will be able to step into the batter’s box or onto the pitching mound at his favorite Major League ballpark, a light may switch on in his head. By the time he’s in middle school, he can feel that he has talent, but it takes work. When other kids are playing video games, he’s out running on the school track or along the side of the road. He’s decided this is the game for him.
His parents or guardians know what he’s aiming for—the golden ring, the big kahuna, The Show—to make it into Major League Baseball. They know they’ll have to make sacrifices on his behalf. Maybe they’ll have to find personal coaches to tutor him in running, pitching, batting, base stealing. Maybe they’ll have to invest in one of the nationally known camps or baseball academies such as the Baseball Factory, which combine classroom sessions in strategy with on-field instruction.
By the time he’s in high school, he’ll try out for the varsity team, even as a freshman. If he has enough talent, and the varsity coach needs someone with his skills at a particular position, he’ll probably make it. If not, he’ll play on the junior varsity and on American Legion baseball or other amateur teams that won’t ruin his high school eligibility.
Baseball scouts may be lurking in the wings, watching what he and his teammates are doing. They’re searching for special players for the annual baseball players draft.
But wait—what about college? Shouldn’t he consider attending college and playing college ball?
I attended a session in 2006 during which Mike Lowell, the All-Star third baseman for the Red Sox, discussed his choice—if one can call it that—to forego being drafted and instead enter college. Here’s how he described it:
I was all excited about being drafted. I was just about turning handsprings. My father, who’d played ball in Cuba before defecting to the United States, turned to me and said something to the effect of, ‘Are you done?’ ‘What?’ I responded, ‘I’m going to play baseball!’ ‘Not until you go to college first.’ ‘College? What do you mean, college? I’m going to play baseball!’ He sat me down and explained to me that I needed to go to college because I needed to have something to fall back on. He told me that I’d become a better ballplayer because I’d get coaching from a college-level coach. He also said that I might get hurt playing ball and that I’d get stronger if I played at the college level. And he said that I’d have a career if I had a college degree. I, of course, thought he was crazy. I ran around the house slamming doors and finally agreed that I’d go to college first and then go back in the draft.
And you know what? He was right. I did become stronger, faster, and a better ballplayer. I would run into coaches along the way, and they’d say, ‘Hey, aren’t you Carl Lowell’s kid? He was a heck of a ballplayer in Cuba.’
That was my father, who sacrificed his own baseball career when he left Cuba, moved with his family to Puerto Rico and lived in a crowded two-bedroom flat until they could get to the mainland. He gave up baseball entirely and went to dental school. He became a dentist so that he could support his family and we could become whatever we wanted to be. He made those sacrifices so that I could be a baseball player. He knew what he was doing when he told me to go to college. He was so right. I was so wrong.
When asked by a young fan in the crowd what his own advice would be to youngsters who wanted to become professional baseball players, Mike Lowell said, “I’m not too fond of video games. If you want to play baseball, or any sport, on a higher level, you need to move. You need to play baseball, or ride your bike, or run, or be moving. That’s how you’ll get to be a better ballplayer. Video games make you lazy.”
He didn’t discuss how difficult minor-league life was on his early career. But many have reminisced about their troubles in the minors, and talked about how hard it is to be away from home, not having those who have sacrificed their whole lives and helped get them where they were.
Those are some of the issues my main characters—Jimmy, Bobby and Bud—deal with on a daily basis in Empty Seats. They’re far away from their respective homes, playing ball in Jamestown, New York, in an unfamiliar place, with people they’ve just met because fate landed them on the same Planet Baseball.
These are the issues you’ll find if you attend a minor-league baseball game and look into the dugout and see the faces of the young players. Some of them don’t speak English because they’re from Latin American countries. The universal language of baseball is spoken on the field but moving into a home with a local family and not speaking their language can be difficult.
Today’s minor-league teams are doing things that help players to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. Most offer English as a second language classes for players and even some basic Spanish for the local family members.
Another part of their training is off the field, in learning to make personal appearances. Several years ago, I worked at a local physical rehabilitation hospital. We were replacing the roof and had to move patients to another area of the hospital during the day while the roofers were banging away. Our recreation therapy department decided to have certain special days to keep patients occupied, and we had a “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” day, complete with hot dogs, popcorn, Cracker Jacks, and other baseball-appropriate snacks. We invited the local minor-league baseball team, the Valley Cats (affiliated with the Houston Astros), to send a player or two, in uniform, to the event. As part of their community outreach and training to meet fans, two players came and met patients in wheelchairs, signing tiny baseballs for them and playing baseball-themed games.
The patients loved this day; the sad part, however, is that neither player ever made it to the major leagues.
Getting back to low pay for minor-league players: They are paid so poorly that most have to work part-time during and after the season in order to be able to live. After the low-A and single-A levels, they no longer live with families, but rather, six or seven will get together and rent an apartment to save money. Those who are married face an even bigger dilemma, since they must find apartments to accommodate a couple and/or a family.
During the 2019 playoffs between the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Brewers, Yankee fans taunted a Brewers pitcher who’d been called up prior to the playoffs. They yelled, “Uber! Uber! Uber!” at him to tease him about the part-time job he’d had in order to supplement his income. Most fans watching a Major League game wouldn’t think that a player in MLB would need to supplement his income, but someone who’d been in the minors for a long time might have to do just that. His pitching performance was mediocre, at best, during the playoffs, but he never denied that he had a part-time job.
Some private citizens believe in supporting minor leaguers so much that they sponsor efforts to sponsor individual players. One person I met via Twitter has sponsorships going for five players, where private people send about $150 per month to assist with living expenses via gift cards or cash while they’re playing in the minor leagues. With no baseball as of the writing of this blog, some of those minor leaguers are also facing immigration issues.
In the movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner plays a catcher who’s seen many a phenom come and go. He’s stuck around the minors for perhaps too long when a kid with a blazing fast ball and a face like Kansas corn comes along (played by Tim Robbins). Costner not only has to mentor the kid on his pitching, but also has to advise him on how to talk to the press. When it becomes obvious that the Robbins character will be called up to the majors, and Costner still stays behind in the minors, Costner gives him his talking points on what to say to the media who surround him as they report the news.
Costner is, in many ways, the epitome of the person who hangs around minor-league baseball too long, hoping against hope that one day he, too, will get the call to The Show. He’s the guy characterized in folksinger Greg Brown’s song “Laughing River”:
Twenty years in the minor leagues–
Ain’t no place I didn’t go.
Well I gotta few hits,
But I never made the show.
And I could hang on for a few years,
Doin what I’ve done before.
I wanna hear the Laughing River,
Flowin’ right outside my door.
It’s the story of a man who’s held on for too long and finally realizes he has to go home, to where the Laughing River flows.
Perhaps it’s the story of some characters you’ll meet if you read Empty Seats—hanging on to their dreams too long instead of going home. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll surprise you. Or you’ll have to look forward to the sequel.
What Little Leaguer doesn’t dream of walking from the dugout onto a Major League baseball field, facing his long-time idol and striking his out? Empty Seats follows three different minor-league baseball pitchers as they follow their dreams to climb the ladder from minor- to major-league ball, while facing challenges along the way—not always on the baseball diamond. This coming-of-age novel takes on success and failure in unexpected ways. One reviewer calls this book “a tragic version of ‘The Sandlot.’”
(Winner of the 2019 New Apple Award and 2019 Independent Publishing Award)
Following a successful 40-year career in public relations/marketing/media relations, Wanda Adams Fischer parlayed her love for baseball into her first novel, Empty Seats. She began writing poetry and short stories when she was in the second grade in her hometown of Weymouth, Massachusetts and has continued to write for more than six decades. In addition to her “day” job, she has been a folk music DJ on public radio for more than 40 years, including more than 37 at WAMC-FM, the Albany, New York-based National Public Radio affiliate. In 2019, Folk Alliance International inducted her into their Folk D-J Hall of Fame. A singer/songwriter in her own right, she’s produced one CD, “Singing Along with the Radio.” She’s also a competitive tennis player and has captained several United States Tennis Association senior teams that have secured berths at sectional and national events. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Northeastern University in Boston. She lives in Schenectady, NY, with her husband of 47 years, Bill, a retired family physician, whom she met at a coffeehouse in Boston in 1966; they have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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