Starting tonight, the Dodgers will draft players who will all aspire to be major leaguers someday. Most will not make it. For the select few that do manage to make the big club, their journey will include years of travelling to small cities throughout America as they make their way through the minor leagues.
Baseball players are transient by nature. Their stay at any particular level can change at any time. Minor leaguers are constantly trying to improve, to advance to the next level, so any effort to set roots in a particular stop is counterproductive to the ultimate goal of making the major leagues. Dodger relief pitcher Travis Schlichting began the season in Chattanooga, Tennessee, playing with the Dodgers' AA affiliate, and was called up to the Dodgers on May 31 when Eric Stults was placed on the disabled list. He had a three-month lease on an apartment with a pair of teammates. "Everyone understands how it works," Schlichting says of the temporary nature of minor league life, "you never know where you are going to be from time to time."
Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement calls for any player called up to the majors to be put up in a hotel for their first seven days at home. In addition, the called up player receives seven days of per diem -- roughly $90 per day -- as if they were on the road. Scott Akasaki, the Dodgers' Manager of Team Travel, oversees these accommodations. When a player gets called up or sent down, Akasaki is one of the first to know. For instance, the callup of Blake DeWitt wasn't announced until Sunday afternoon, but Akasaki was making plans regarding DeWitt before the game on Saturday.
Akasaki noted that the Dodgers' relationship with hotels is important. "The hotels know that callups and injuries are a part of it," he said. Getting a room or two on a moment's notice is often necessary, as was the case with catcher A.J. Ellis. Ellis was recalled from AAA Albuquerque in the middle of a road trip, on May 29, while the club was in Chicago. Even though hotel rooms are reserved in advance, Akasaki noted it isn't difficult to secure an extra room if needed.
Outfielder Jamie Hoffmann has been living out of a hotel for a month. After Jason Repko was placed on the minor league disabled list on May 12, Hoffmann was promoted from Chattanooga to Albuquerque. The Isotopes were in the middle of a road trip at the time, and before he could play a home game in AAA, Hoffmann was called up to the Dodgers to replace the injured Xavier Paul. Hoffmann, who still had an apartment in Chattanooga through the end of May, has been a quick study in the major league lifestyle. "I'm getting used to them making my bed for me, and living out of a suitcase, that's for sure," he said.
Having to deal with a life-changing event like becoming a major leaguer -- a lifelong dream for many players -- is not as simple as adjusting to more talented competition. There are many distractions, from dealing with an existing apartment lease in another city, or arranging tickets for your parents or family members to come to watch you play. In many ways, being on the field -- even in front of larger crowds than they've ever played for -- provides welcome relief. Schlichting noted how calm he has felt in the bullpen, although the daily tasks of filling up the bullpen cooler with drinks and stocking the bullpen with sunflower seeds and gum have provided a regimented distraction.
Hoffmann seems to have perspective on getting called up to the major leagues. "I wouldn't say it's distracting," he said, "It's the same game, just a lot better competition, a lot more fans, some funner cities. You just have to relax." With all that goes into becoming a major leaguer, perhaps that is the best advice.