- In Minor League baseball, Free-Agent is just a fancy word for unemployed. And when you’re still looking for a job when December rolls around… trepidation creeps in. (fancy word for panic)
- Every season has a AAAA group or “Four A”. A collection of players who have some Major League service time, and lots of Minor League service time.
- A group of players where the word prospect is no longer used, but replaced with journeyman. (and in some cases veteran… or crusty)
- This cluster of experienced grinders played hard EVERYDAY last season, in hopes of getting a job for the next season. All the while maintaining the goal of getting back on a Big League field.
- Some of these “salty” players that can’t score a job for spring training, end up in independent ball. (teams unaffiliated with a MLB organization) Others may find their way to a season in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Italy, or Mexico. Guys do this to hopefully be seen and get picked up by a Major League affiliate.
So with my Four A membership: I called, texted, emailed, twittered, Facebook stalked, smoke signaled, and Game of Thrones raven messaged ANYONE I knew in baseball that could help me land a job.
I contacted… (including but not limited to) General Managers, assistant GM’s, managers, coaches, coordinators, scouts, farm directors, field coordinators, clubhouse personnel, statisticians, bat boys, and at least 2 mascots.
After months of “no’s” “maybe’s” & “This number is no longer in service” I had tried everything…
But my dad, former MLBer, former MiLB coach, and STILL current role model, told me to try one more thing. He spoke of a tradition. A tradition that has seemingly faded away in the age of technology. The dying art of a handshake at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.
As the story goes, the winter meetings was once a place where players could see organization decision-makers face to face, and ask for a job. A situation where people who love the game too much to give it up, “”randomly bump”” into baseball executives. So…
Uninvited and determined, I walked into Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. Armed with a homemade business card that read: “Tim Dillard RHP” (right-handed pitcher)
The massive indoor resort was filled with people from every realm of the baseball universe. A circus complete with press conferences, interviews, speeches, tv shows, and award ceremonies. (all of which could be accessed with proper credentials. I had no such credentials) So I just walked.
After parading around for an hour, I decided to stand at a strategically positioned walkway. (between the Media Area, hotel rooms, and Starbucks of course) And so for the next 6 hours I shook many new hands, hugged many old friends, and handed out many RHP cards.
Next day I stood in the same spot for 7 hours. By this time people thought I worked there, and began asking me for directions. I also successfully gave my information to a MLB stadium announcer… (I totally thought he was a coach)
Day 3 was more of the same. “Take the left hallway at the top of the escalator, and Starbucks will be on your right.” But after 20 hours of standing over 3 days, the winter meetings had come to a close; and I left for home.
Arguably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my 14 seasons… More difficult than toeing a cinder block on a mound in Mexico. More anxiety than playing independent ball. More humbling than getting ejected from a Major League game. And required more grit than continuing to throw strikes after giving up 9 hits in a row.
However, this last resort proved it’s worth, and once again landed a job in Minor League Spring Training with the Milwaukee Brewers! On the other side of this experience I found something invaluable… thankfulness. And THANKFULNESS trumps anxiety, fear, shame, and discouragement.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17