Minor leaguers recount major inconveniences

By Tessa Sayers, Assistant Editor

After former Pitt baseball pitcher Josh Mitchell was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2017 MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals, he started reaching out to established players for advice on what he could expect.

“It was a very broad and general answer of hey, the minor leagues is a grind, you better prepare for it,” Mitchell said. “So me being the knucklehead that I am, I was like, ‘Ah, I’ll be fine … I know it’s going to be tough so I just have to grind through it.’ But boy was I wrong.”

Mitchell knew he would play 140 games in 150 days, but he didn’t know he would sleep on the living room floor of an apartment he shared with four other people the year after he was drafted.

By then, he had been promoted from the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Royals’ Rookie Pioneer league team, to the Lexington Legends, their full season A team. The starting salary for a minor league baseball player is about $1,300 a month, making it hard to find decent housing.

When Mitchell moved to Lexington, Kentucky, he and four of his teammates rented a three-bedroom apartment. Mitchell drew the short stick and was stuck sleeping in the living room with another teammate on mattresses the Royals organization bought for them.

“We were so cheap we didn’t have a TV,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t have furniture, we only had one pot and one pan, but it ended up being nice because I think our rent for each person was $250.”

A couple months later, Mitchell was called up to the Advance A Wilmington Blue Rockets. Luckily, instead of having to look and pay for an apartment, he was placed with a host family, which minor league teams try to pair players with to help with costs. Host families provide players a place to live, allowing them to save money that would have gone toward rent and food.

When Mitchell arrived at his host’s family house for the first time, it was late and the kids were already asleep. After meeting his host mom, he shut the door to his room and went to sleep, not expecting the surprise that greeted him the next morning.

“I wake up in the morning to both of the kids just sitting on the bed just waiting for me to wake up,” Mitchell said. “It was like 7:30 or 8 in the morning. I didn’t know what to say or do, the first thing I said was just, ‘Good morning guys’ — that was different.”

After about a week, Mitchell got used to the family and things weren’t as awkward anymore. When he was at the house, he would play with the kids and keep them occupied and the host mom would make him food and do his laundry.

While most minor league players choose to live with host families because they can save money, not all do. Dylan Cyphert, a former Pitt baseball player, was drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 17th round of the 2017 MLB draft.

He spent his summer in New York in short A ball playing for the Batavia Muckdogs. Though he had the opportunity to live with a host family, he decided to stay in a team hotel instead. While the team pays for some of his hotel expenses, $185 still gets taken out of his paycheck every month to cover the cost of the room.

“It’s kind of nice, but at the same time you’re not able to cook or anything,” Cyphert said. “You’re eating out a lot and spending a lot of money on food, that’s the biggest part I don’t like about it. But I mean it is nice because you have somebody to clean your room every other day.”

Even if they don’t choose to live in one, all minor league players spend a decent amount of time in hotels when they travel to away games. Isaac Mattson, Mitchell’s Pitt teammate, was drafted by the Angels in the 19th round of the 2017 draft and recounted nights spent sleeping in hotels chosen and paid for by the home teams — nights that didn’t always turn out pleasant.

“We stayed at a hotel at the beginning of the season and [my roommate] ended up getting bed bugs,” Mattson said. “The next day he gets to the field and … he’s got all these different marks on his body.”

Luckily for Mattson, he didn’t get bed bugs, but he did take what happened to his friend seriously. Now, any time he goes to a hotel he sets up a bed bug trap and checks the sheets to make sure he isn’t putting himself at risk.

Mitchell has also never experienced bed bugs, but one time in rookie ball he walked into his room and found there were no sheets on the bed — only old towels and sheets on the bathroom floor, covered in water. After calling the front desk twice in two hours asking for sheets, a worker told him they knocked and no one answered, so his sheets were now at the front desk and he could come pick them up.

So Mitchell and his roommate went to the lobby and got the sheets, though the woman manning the front desk didn’t take kindly to Mitchell snatching them and running.

“I grab the sheets and take off and as I’m running she’s yelling at me,” Mitchell said. “She’s cussing me out. I stop and said, ‘All you had to do was drop the sheets off,’ and ran into the room. That was probably the worst [experience] right there.”

Because the teams play more than one away series against another team, some of the hotels become notorious to them. For instance, Mattson’s roommate was bitten by bed bugs again at the same hotel, a month and a half after the first time they stayed there.

“You definitely learn the first times through,” Matson said. “Or at least most people, my one teammate from the one trip we took didn’t learn his first time. But you learn each trip you take to a certain spot what you need to bring in order to make sure the experience is the best you can make it.”

At the end of the day, the players try to make the best of their accommodations — after all, they have no other choice if they’re going to accomplish their dreams of making it to the majors.

“The show is going to go on with you or without you,” Mitchell said. “So make the most of it because the next day isn’t promised. I’ve come in after night games the next day and have seen lockers cleaned out. It’s not fun seeing your friends go, but at the same time you don’t want to be the one who goes either.”