The most underlooked aspect of Minor League Baseball might just be the lifestyle that is lived both on and off the field for the players and managers navigating the lengthy season.
Whether it’s the road trip that feels like it’ll never end, or the 15-inning marathon that requires every bit of energy stored up in the athlete’s body, the pro baseball schedule offers plenty of difficult hurdles to jump on a nightly basis.
Some prospects can bypass the difficulties as they attempt to make it to the big-leagues and follow their dreams, but others fall victim to Minor League Baseball’s taxing workload.
For players like Myrtle Beach Pelicans pitcher Ryan Kellogg, the minor-league grind is looked at as a journey that is unavoidably exhausting yet life-changing at the same time.
Now in his second full season in the Cubs organization after being drafted in 2015, Kellogg is perhaps one of the best players on the Pelicans roster to ask about the minor-league lifestyle.
The Canadian-born pitcher was drafted in 2012 by his favorite team, the Toronto Blue Jays, but made the decision to bypass the opportunity and head to Arizona State University, where he had significant success in his three years with the Sun Devils.
A 5th-round selection in the 2015 Draft, Kellogg says the weekly travel has been the most difficult change to navigate during his time in the minor-leagues.
“It’s definitely a different lifestyle,” Kellogg said. “At ASU, being a bigger program, we were a little more spoiled in the way we got to travel. We didn’t have that many road trips… we didn’t have to take buses for many trips. The longest one that we had was about six hours, compared to here where six hours is considered a short one.”
According to Kellogg, the idea that a new pro player’s workload is lighter without the college schoolwork isn’t entirely true.
Sure, there are no quizzes due or group projects to work on during the non-baseball hours, but the mental grind of keeping track of life itself during the extended work hours is a heavy task alone.
“It’s still a lot of work, and the days here are longer than they are at school,” he said, noting report times for players on most days is several hours before first-pitch. “Here, you might not have [school activities] in the morning but you’re going to sleep until noon, show up to the field at two and then you go home at 10:30-11:00 at night… So, maybe you aren’t worried about that final or that test, but you’re just hoping you can get enough sleep that night.”
Amazingly enough, the schedule Kellogg describes as normal is the one that is in place only when the players are at home. When you throw in the aforementioned bus travel in the mix, any sense of continuity that might come with routine is thrown out the window.
Because of the makeup of the Minor League schedule, teams rarely spend more than a week at a time at “home” in the local city.
More often than not, life outside of baseball during the year is spent in small-town Best Westerns and Comfort Inns. It’s full of quick meals, constantly shifting schedules and anything but routine.
Recently, the Pelicans had quite the travel slate, as they were in three different road cities within the span of 10 days. On April 30, the team left Lynchburg, Virginia, to make the bus ride to Frederick, Maryland, for a three-game series up north.
After the final game in Maryland on May 3, the team took off on an eight-hour bus trip back to the Myrtle Beach where they’d play a game on May 4 as a part of a four-day homestand. After that final game on the May 7, the team made the next-day bus trip to Winston-Salem to kick off a stretch of schedule that will not see an off day until May 30.
According to Kellogg, it’s being able to adapt to situations like these that helps put some prospects in more favorable positions than others.
Perhaps better put, the lifestyle isn’t for those who enjoy the comfort of their own mattress.
“Trying to navigate that is definitely tough. Trying to get enough sleep the night before or trying to sleep on a bus, some guys can’t sleep on a bus, and for those guys you send a prayer, it’s a long one,” he said with a laugh.
“Coming into the minor-leagues, you know that it’s part of it. You know that you’re going to have long travel days. You know that you’re going to have an early morning, a long bus ride and then you have to go perform that night. Being able to be aware of that, embrace it and being able to make the best out of the situation is definitely in the best interest of the guys coming into this lifestyle.”
On the topic of continuity and the comfort – or lack thereof – in the minor-league life, Kellogg also mentioned clubhouse chemistry as a key to keeping focused during the long weeks.
And while it’s important to build relationships with those inside the walls of the locker room, the business aspect of Minor League Baseball often takes over.
Roster cuts can happen at any time throughout the year, something Kellogg is all too familiar with.
Parting ways with teammates after the season is difficult, but in-season cuts, a situation that recently hit the Pelicans locker-room, is just another weight added to the pressures of the day-to-day routine.
“We had a tough situation a couple of weeks ago when we had two guys released in one day,” Kellogg described. “We showed up to the field that day, it’s the same as any other day, you go get your work in and the next thing you know they’re coming out of the coach’s office saying ‘Hey, I just got released’.
“And you sort of sit there for a second and you realize that this is a business, you realize it’s a job and it’s not just coming out here and throwing baseballs. There’s somebody above you who is making these decisions and there are people below you who are pushing for your job.”
For Kellogg, life as a Minor Leaguer might be time consuming and full of non-stop work, but there isn’t a job he’d be enjoying more at this stage in his life.
This March, he was selected to play in the World Baseball Classic for Team Canada, getting to live life as a big-leaguer for a week in what he called extra motivation. During his time with the Team Canada squad, he stayed in those five-star hotels, spent time with fellow major-leaguers and sat back while the group received police escorts to the field.
It was a taste of life in The Show, one that Kellogg won’t be forgetting any time soon.
The left-handed pitcher knows he’ll have to navigate more than strike-throwing and run prevention on his way to his dream. Compared to keeping one’s mind and body on the right track for a full season of Minor League Baseball, commanding a fastball or hitting spots in the zone is easy work.
Kellogg knows the balance and appreciates the opportunity to be playing the game he loves.
And if the World Baseball Classic experience taught him anything, it’s that the reward of pitching under the bright lights is worth the non-stop effort.
“We all started in very different places, whether it’s the Latin American guys, the American guys or me being up north from Canada, we all had very different starting points but we all found our way here,” he said.
“When you take a step back and look at it you realize how lucky we are to play baseball and to get to this level and to be able to call showing up to the field every day my job.”