By Aron Solomon
What a baseball season it has been.
Major League Baseball just held their first Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa, a way to reconnect with their fans and harken back to an earlier time. The event was a massive success, garnering the best broadcast ratings in almost two decades.
Meanwhile, Minor League Baseball, mere months after an MLB-led reorganization that saw a loss of around 40 teams, one of which took to the courts, made the news this season in far more visceral ways.
Stories of players sleeping in their cars, needing to choose between food and a bed for the night, and even revelations of minor leaguers drinking NyQuil in gas stations so they could sleep on the ride as they couldn’t afford to eat. While players make it clear each season through their words and actions that they are more than willing to put in the hard work to become Major Leaguers, their living conditions are the most stressful part of their job. All this while the average value of a Major League Baseball team is at an all-time high of $1.9B.
This exploitation isn’t new. For decades, Minor League baseball players have been exploited by the Major League teams that employ them. This year, most Minor Leaguers will make an annual salary of less than $15,000. And while the winds of change might finally be swirling in the distance that would see MLB lose their antitrust exemption, the current battle for minor league baseball remains an uphill one.
Enter Advocates for Minor Leaguers(AfML), a nonprofit organization formed in 2020 to provide a collective voice for Minor Leaguers and advocate for improved working conditions. In their first year of full operation, AfML has scored significant victories for Minor League baseball players with certain MLB teams, including securing back pay for previously unpaid training periods, obtaining housing stipends for players who struggle to afford shelter, and ensuring that teams are properly feeding their players during games and on road trips. AfML has done this by tapping into long-simmering energy among players, the media, and fans, all of whom recognize the players’ exploitation at the hands of their Major League clubs and are ready for change.
I spoke with Kevin Slack, Director of Communications & Development for Advocates for Minor Leaguers, who shared an initiative that they are about to launch for September’s final week of the minor league season.
“We are excited to announce that Advocates for Minor Leaguers will host a Fan Appreciation Day on September 18th. The event will provide us with an opportunity to thank those fans who have advocated for Minor Leaguers this year and educate other fans who are new to the issue about the challenges facing Minor Leaguers.”
The organizing group for the event has met several times and spans the nation. Several in the group have experience playing in the minor leagues, so can help explain to fans what life is like playing for the local teams they support.
Slack mentioned that AfML is currently recruiting volunteers who would like to be a part of Fan Appreciation Day in some capacity. Fans can volunteer to help out at one of the ballparks in person, they can donate to the event on AfML website, or they can even post a message of solidarity on social media on September 18th.
This is a great concrete step to raise awareness of the realities of Minor League baseball as we move into the off-season, one that could begin to see the protective wall that Major League Baseball has built over the past century begin to crumble, with the right type and amount of pressure.