To Be in the MLB

The following post was written by guest author Jake Fox.  Fox was drafted as a catcher by the Chicago Cubs in the 3rd round (73rd overall) of the 2003 Major League Baseball draft.  After climbing the ranks of the minor leagues, Fox made his major league debut on July 19, 2007 against the San Francisco Giants.  In 2009, Fox had a breakout year in AAA, leading the Pacific Coast League in batting average, HR, RBI, SLG, and OPS, and he was again recalled by the Cubs.  2010 was Fox’s first full year at the Major League level as he saw time with the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles.  Fox currently serves as a utility player for the Baltimore Orioles.

Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field

I am a Major League Baseball Player

I am a Major League Baseball Player. I have spent the better part of my twenties striving to become one. I spent six years bouncing between minor league towns on overnight bus rides and staying in hotels whose slogan was “spend a night, not a fortune.” I lived out of suitcases with my whole life packed inside, eating food at twenty-four hour late-night restaurant chains that our team nutritionists warned us only to use as a last resort.  The stadiums I played in had fans who cared more about the between inning entertainment than the game itself. I sacrificed time away from family and friends for seven months out of the year and ran my body into the ground for almost two hundred games in that short period of time. My lifestyle for the past six years, with the exception of eighteen days in 2007, has been far from glamorous and is nearly impossible to explain to anybody who has never lived it.

On May 26, 2009, life changed. My pursuit of a life-long childhood dream finally found an open door. After learning enormous lessons in budgeting a meager salary and supporting a family from across the country, I finally received the phone call that had engaged my dreams for over twenty years. I went from living in a hotel by the Des Moines airport to living in a fully furnished apartment on the forty-third floor of a high rise in downtown Chicago. Charter buses to chartered flights, pre-game peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to meals cooked to order, one or two star hotels to five star resorts and earning $378 bi-weekly to Big League minimum were just a few of the changes. What I had spent my whole life working for was becoming a reality.

The Journey

I was drafted in the third round of the amateur draft in June of 2003. Like most kids drafted, I thought my road to the Big Leagues would be a breeze. “Three years and I will be a super-star.”  It is always said that baseball is a humbling game and I didn’t understand that phrase until my first stint in rookie ball. Like all draftees, I was the best player on my team at every level I had ever played. Only after I got my first glimpse of professional baseball did I understand that everybody was the best at wherever they came from. I got thrown into a melting pot of talent from all over the country and the world. Guys were running faster, throwing harder and hitting further. I became the minority on a team with only a handful of English speaking players and felt completely over matched.

My first experience in professional baseball was in the last three innings of a rookie ball game in the 120 degree heat of Mesa, Arizona. I can still picture the manager at the time laughing to himself as he told me I was going in to catch. Attempting to put me in my place as a young, high draft pick, he put me in for the last three innings knowing that the upcoming pitchers were being “developed.” As I ran up to the mound to go over signs with my pitcher, I realized that the task ahead of me was going to be difficult.

The kid standing in front of me was a seventeen-year-old right-handed thrower from the Dominican Republic who did not speak English. At the time, I did not speak Spanish.  I glanced back to the dugout and the manager was pretending to be busy while the pitching coach simply waved the backside of his hand enticing me to figure it out for myself. Scrambling, all I could think to do was hold up fingers as if they were signs and hope for a response. It worked like a charm. He knew exactly what I was looking for and as I held up different numbers, he blurted out the corresponding pitch.  Feeling proud of myself, I jogged back to home plate and got in my crouch. The first pitch he threw was at least ninety-eight miles per hour and about four feet over my head. Thinking it was a fluke, I threw another ball to him and waited for the next one. Four of his first seven pitches pelted the backstop, probably leaving indentations. The only thing I could remember thinking to myself was, “what in the world have I gotten my self into?”

I figured it out and got through it. Since then, there have been countless challenges all teaching valuable lessons. I learned how to speak another language, perform when I was exhausted and maintain a professional relationship with teammates and coaches even though we did not get along. For seven months out of the year, the team was my family. I spent countless hours with them and they became my support and competition.  They were friends but also the ones I was fighting against to move up to the next level.  We spent twelve and fourteen-hour bus rides together only to have to play the next day and show the organization I was better.

Shared Experiences, Mutual Respect

It is a long and grueling road but is a way of life you have to live in pursuit of a dream; a dream that very few ever get to experience. For this reason, Major League Baseball Players have a close fraternity. Even members from opposing teams will meet in center field before the game begins to catch up or share a word of encouragement. It is understood that each player has paid his dues to be where he is. There is a respect shared among all players because the struggles are shared and provide a bond between those that have overcome them.  As a result, everybody on the field in a Major League Baseball game has a past and a present together, good or bad.

Either way, that is why some players have a difficult time attaching to one team. We have been moved so many times in their career and have constantly made adjustments to new teams making it is hard to feel any affiliation. We have friends wherever we go and don’t care what organization we play for. We only identify with being a professional baseball player, not a Cub, Yankee or Cardinal.  In this sport of constant change and upheaval, it is common to get traded, not make a team, change organizations or fall out of baseball all together. I learned to accept it and move on because of my ultimate goal to play in the Major Leagues. My goal was to get to Chicago and play at Wrigley Field. When it finally happened, I was more focused on my goal than the fact I was in Chicago, one of the best sports cities in the world.

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  • Jake, it’s really great to hear from an actual player what it’s like to go through the ranks. Sometimes as a fan you forget that after the game is over that you can’t just press reset and the player is 100% again but they are actually real people going through real things. Thanks for taking the time out to write this post.

  • I’ll never forget Fox and my brother in the Indy City Championship in 2000. The bomb Fox hit off of my brother was unreal. Up and in and Fox drops it over the right field line. To this day I have no idea how he did it, but always good to see a grinder who makes it.