In 2001 I worked for the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings as the Director of Public/Media Relations. It was my first full-time position in baseball and turned out to be the last full season that I spent with a team. It was one hell of a horrible season. Attendance lagged, our team stunk going 40-56 under the “leadership” of George “The Boomer” Scott and Harlingen, Texas wasn’t really my idea of a great place to live. Nonetheless, I was doing what I loved and tried to make the most out of it.
Sometime early in the season, Boomer walked into the front office, and bellowed “hey big man! You got any players for me?” For a couple days I had no idea what he was talking about. Our general manager handled all of the player procurement duties, why would he ask me? I had no contacts, I didn’t know anybody in baseball and I didn’t have the foggiest idea where to start.
So I went to the Minor League Baseball website and started scouring the transactions page looking for any left-hander that was released from High-A or above. I compiled a short list of guys that I thought might have a chance at playing in our league, but again, I had no idea what to do next. How do I ever get a hold of these guys? It’s not like their or their agent’s phone numbers were published anywhere and I didn’t expect that MLB teams would be willing to share information with a random PR guy in a low-level independent league.
It turned out I was wrong. I grabbed the BA Baseball Directory and started calling Major League team’s minor league or scouting departments asking anybody I could if they had contact information for any of these guys. I had no idea if this was proper etiquette or if I would get laughed off of the phone, but it was worth a shot. Surprisingly, given the chilly relationships between MiLB and the independents, I found most every organization to be very accommodating. I even managed to get the Reds to give me Deion Sander’s information (including personal cell number) after he was released.
Then, once I had their information, I started calling the players to find out their story and see if they had any interest in playing for us. This is where it usually got interesting. I called one guy who had been released from Double-A despite being a high draft pick with really impressive numbers. His father answered the phone and after explaining who I was and asking if his son was available or interested in playing independent ball, he very shortly explained to me that his son was released because he was undergoing treatment for manic depression and that he probably was finished playing baseball. I felt horrible because the tone of his voice was very sad and he was a little bit angry (he had asked the organization not to release his son’s information).
Calling these guys was both horrifying and rewarding, sometimes at the same time. I could always tell that these guys were depressed that they had been released. I would be too if I was fired and had to face the fact that my dream career might be over at 25. Once I explained myself, some guys sounded insulted at the prospect of playing indy ball while others were excited to get a call from anybody. Others had already moved on lining up jobs or going back to school.
For example, I called a pitcher that I knew who had just been released from the Elmira Pioneers and he answered while on his way to his first law school class. I told to him to forget that I ever called, we wouldn’t sign him even if he wanted to come play for us. I wasn’t about to have a guy delay his law career for a team that was already 10 games under .500.
Once I made contact and figured out if they were interested, I passed them along to Boomer and our GM for the final decision. We signed a couple of these guys, some turned out to be good and some were bad.
After figuring out that I could get away with this method (which to this day I don’t know if it was truly kosher or not)I had it down so that by the time Boomer walked into the office each day, I had a packet of information on every player released the previous day. So when he yelled “hey big man! I need a first baseman…find one!” I had one handy and ready to go.
Anyway, it was fascinating and kind of gratifying to read that independent managers with a lot more contacts and experience basically do the exact same thing that I used to do and struggle with it in the same way that I did.