By: Paola Hernandez
Baseball represents something different in every person. For some people it’s a hobby, the way to connect with other people, and for others it’s a job. I have been watching it since I was little and I grew up watching some players that became my favorites. Thinking about them, I realized that in this sport there are lots of opportunities. I’m not only talking about every game; I’m talking about the ones that can take you to be successful in this sport because there are different leagues in every country. I thought about players with different experiences and challenges in their careers. Maybe all of them have something in common, but every one of them had a different road to be where they are. That’s why I decided to speak to them and write about their experiences.
Being in minor leagues represents a lot of challenges, getting over ups and downs, and trying to win a spot every day are the main ones.
First, I am going to tell you about Carlos Pacheco’s experience. Pacheco signed with the Chicago Cubs at the age of 17. He has been playing in minor leagues for three years, being in a constant fight to earn a place in the left field. He has to train every day and use every opportunity that arises to develop and improve his numbers. Like Carlos, there are players who are looking for an opportunity to get to the majors. Others make their career in the minor leagues, and there are cases of players who end up playing in other leagues or countries. Such the case of Fernando Perez.
Perez signed with the San Diego Padres when he was 18 years old and spent six years playing for Fort Wayne Tin Caps, Lake Elsinore Storm and San Antonio Missions until 2018, when the Milwaukee Brewers signed him. It was the end of Spring Training and he couldn’t find a spot in Double- or Triple-A. That’s when Milwaukee and the Toros de Tijuana came to an agreement. Perez would be playing for Toros and Milwaukee was able to call him anytime of that season, but that wasn’t the case. Perez has been playing with the Naranjeros de Hermosillo in the Pacific Mexican league since 2015. He earned his place at first base and sometimes plays second or third. He’s now waiting for the season to start and show what he’s capable with his new team, the Leones de Yucatan in the Mexican League. Like Fernando, there are more players that make their careers in countries like Japan, Mexico, Korea and others. Some players divide their year into two seasons. Once the regular season ends, they play in the winter league – if the team they play for allows it, because most of the time the player decide to play that season in their native country (if the player plays in a league out of their country).
Thinking about the path between the minors and the majors, I thought about the second player I spoke to that spent almost two years playing in the minors before he made his debut in the major leagues last year. He had a good start and then had a few struggles.
Being in the minors and then jumping to major leagues is a difficult transition. You have to compete with players with more experience and who know more about working at that level. The key is try to adjust as quickly as possible and try to develop your skills to work at that level.
Now, what happens when you get to the majors? I’m going to tell you Matt Szczur’s experience.
Szczur attended Villanova University, he signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2010. After four years in minors, he made his debut in major leagues. During the next three years with this organization, there where ups, downs, injuries, etc. In 2017, he was traded to San Diego and spent the season there. After that, he played a season with Arizona; where he spent some time with injuries. During the off season, he signed with Philadelphia, the team he played with during spring training. Szczur has been playing for a long time in major leagues but that doesn’t mean that once he got there that was permanent, during this ten years he has been in a constant fight to keep his spot, playing between minors and majors and struggling to stay healthy, injuries can be a big challenge, you have no control of them and prevent you from showing your skills. Like I said, this isn’t an easy path, Matt had to be so focused on his goals and the work that he had to put to make it happened, he wasn’t afraid to fail because that gives the opportunity to grow and, How could you give up to your dream?
In baseball as in life, you need dedication and passion towards your goals to make them happen. That made me think about their personal life, the people around them, and how they handle some changes because those can take them further away from or closer to their families. When I spoke to Natalie Szczur, Matt’s wife, she explained to me that they have to be prepared. Just because a player starts a season with a team doesn’t always mean that you will end the season in the same place. Expecting that and thinking about the opportunities that every new team and city gives them helps the idea of changing to not be so scary – it is something that they have to deal with.
I think every person has a different idea when they think about “success” or “being successful.” If you are talking in a sports environment, each person has a different experience; every one of them with different challenges and achievements. I think that it doesn’t matter if you are playing in Japan, Mexico, Korea, minors, majors, or in any other league of another country. If you are doing what you love and you are willing to overcome yourself every day, to not give up when things aren’t good at all, and you take every opportunity that arises, looking to show the best in you, you are having the success you are looking for.