Why baseball’s ‘Homeless Minor Leaguer’ isn’t sweating the sport’s small salary – For The Win
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Matt Paré is a 26-year-old Boston College graduate entering his fifth year in the San Francisco Giants’ minor-league system. He spent the bulk of the the 2016 season as a part-time catcher and the oldest player on the club’s Class A affiliate in Augusta, Ga., and he’s hoping to fill the same role for the Giants’ Class A Advanced club in San Jose in 2017. Like most minor leaguers, he lives an itinerant lifestyle on wages that amount to less than the national minimum wage, and earns no money for spring training.
Paré is cool with it.
“That’s what’s so exciting about this profession: You’re always on the move,” Paré told the For The Win podcast at a bustling Scottsdale coffee shop earlier this month. “It’s a lifestyle I’m so used to now. You take a minimalist approach to everything. If I can’t fit everything that I own in my car, then I probably need to get rid of some stuff.”
Through a Boston College baseball connection, Paré is spending his spring sleeping on a pullout couch in the freestanding fitness casita on the grounds of a mansion in posh Paradise Valley, Ariz. — not far from the Giants’ spring home in Scottsdale. He recognizes that he’s hardly a top prospect on the fast track to San Francisco, but he loves playing baseball, he says the Giants treat him and other minor leaguers well, and he knows that the connections and cache that come with his unusual occupation can open doors.
For his YouTube channel, Homeless Minor Leaguer, Paré writes and stars in a variety of sketch-comedy videos. Many of them feature writing partner and offseason roommate Ty Kelly of the New York Mets organization, and plenty find inspiration from the particulars of minor-league life. One, titled MINOR LEAGUERS NEED YOUR HELP, parodies Sarah McLachlan’s heart-wrenching ASPCA commercials with Kelly in the role of the sad, underfed puppy.
“I think it’s really crucial to realize that you don’t have to play,” Paré says. “I think the system makes sense. You’re incentivizing these players to get better, and you’re going to get a better product out on the field in the Major Leagues, which is the ultimate goal.
“I love where I’m at, and the situation that I’m in. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Some of Paré’s videos tackle the challenges that come with the low pay, long hours and perpetual uncertainty associated with minor league life. In October, while spending his offseason in San Diego, he examined ways players could make money over the winter when they’re not paid by their teams. Among his other pursuits, Paré earned income this offseason by participating in a clinical trial for a shampoo and serving in a video-game focus group.
It’s not that Paré isn’t sympathetic to the plights of some of his fellow minor leaguers, forced to try to balance the full-time pursuit of baseball careers with the harsh realities of life at a salary that amounts to well below the federal minimum wage. But he plays for an organization that at least goes so far as to cover its minor leaguers’ clubhouse dues and provide healthy catered meals before and after games, and the system, as currently designed, seems well-suited for a guy like him: He’s single and has no kids, he’s got brains and talent and a college degree to fall back on, and the adventures and adversities that come along with his job provide fodder for creativity.
Plus, having grown up in Portland, Maine in a family that hosted minor league players from the Sea Dogs of Class AA’s Eastern League, Paré knew what lifestyle he chose when he signed a contract with San Francisco as an undrafted free-agent after a tryout in 2013.
“Things change in your life, where money is a factor in decisions you make,” he said. “And that’s not to say you don’t love the game; that’s a mature decision. Some guys do have to stop playing. That’s OK. Not everyone’s going to make the Major Leagues.
“Those are the sacrifices that we all have to make. I’ve made a bunch of trips to L.A. because of the YouTube channel recently. Everyone in L.A. has made some sort of sacrifice to do what they’re doing because they want to pursue their dream. I’d say it’s the same thing on the minor league side. It’s so amazing to be around people when you know that every one of them has sacrificed something to be where they are now.”
Last year, Paré told the Washington Post he had no intention of opting in to a lawsuit, first filed in February of 2014, against Major League Baseball and its teams on behalf of a group of current and former minor leaguers hoping to apply the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act — i.e. minimum wage — to a system that pays players as little as $7,500 across the season with no pay for spring training.
But after the case was re-certified as a class-action suit this month, Paré, like every player with experience in the California League since 2010, will have to consciously opt-out of the lawsuit. California League veterans have not yet received notice of the suit or the opportunity to opt-out, but the size of that pool, combined with the collective of over 2,200 players who opted in to the lawsuit under federal law, could mean the case ultimately represents more than 4,000 current and former minor leaguers against the MLB establishment.
Attorney Garrett Broshuis, a former minor leaguer himself and part of the legal team pursuing the suit, says that the promise of a future big-league salary would still be plenty to motivate a minor leaguer earning a more palatable paycheck.
“Even if guys were making $8 an hour instead of $4 an hour, I think there’d be plenty of incentive,” Broshuis told USA TODAY Sports by phone. “That’s still a huge difference from where Major League salaries are, and no one is saying minor league players should be compensated like Major League players. But there’s no reason they can’t at least be provided minimum wage. And it’s different than Hollywood. The teams have decided to sign these players to seven-year contracts. If they’re going to enjoy the fruits of the developmental system by controlling these players for seven years, with those benefits come obligation. They should meet those obligations, and pay these guys a livable wage.
“There’s a desire to enter the industry, but that doesn’t mean the owners are allowed to take advantage of these people and offer them $4 an hour to work, or in the case of spring training, offer them no wages at all. It just doesn’t make sense.”
With opening day less than a week away, Paré is still waiting to find out his assignment for the start of the season, not to mention his living arrangement. But he’s used to it: He’s the “Homeless Minor Leaguer,” after all. And he knows he’ll enter the season with the rare opportunity to play baseball for a living, however meager, and continue his creative pursuits around it.
“I love being in front of the camera,” Paré said. “It’s so much fun. And it’s such a great outlet for off the field, too. We had a bunch of former Major Leaguers — some of the Giant greats — come in and just talk to us about how important it is to have an outlet off the field. If you’re just thinking baseball, baseball, baseball — ‘Where am I going to be this year? What’s going to happen? Who’s going to be where? — it’s emotionally exhausting.”