Out of Work

Minor league baseball player: I was already struggling to make ends meet — then coronavirus hit

Jeremy Randolph pitching for the University of Alabama in April 2019. Two months later, Randolph was drafted in the 26th round of the MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Source: Alabama Athletics Photography

This is part of CNBC Make It's Out of Work series, where real people tell their personal stories of what it's like to be underemployed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the story of Jeremy Randolph, a 24-year-old minor league baseball pitcher. While Major League Baseball's season is expected to finally start on July 23, the minor league baseball season was officially cancelled in June due to Covid-19 fears and a lack of revenue with no fans likely allowed in ballparks. As such, many players like Randolph could have to wait until early 2021 before they can try out for a spot in another MLB team's minor league system.

This is Randolph's story, as told to Tom Huddleston Jr.

I got released from my spot as a minor league pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization on May 27 when the team made a round of cuts because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and I thought: 'OK, time to start figuring things out.'

I had been selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 26th round [out of 40 rounds] in the MLB Draft in June 2019 and pitched in 16 minor league games. I reported to spring training in March, but then the 2020 baseball season was postponed due to the pandemic. After I was let go, the minor league season ended up being cancelled at the end of June.

I didn't expect it to be a straight path to the major leagues with no obstacles. It's so hard for anyone to make it from the minor leagues to the majors. I mean, there are only 25 guys on each of the 30 MLB teams. So you've got to be one of the best 750 players in the world. In any profession, that's going to be tough to do. [Fewer than 18% of all signed MLB draftees end up making the major leagues on average, according to Baseball America, and that number drops below 10% for late-round selections, like Randolph.]

I got drafted lower than other guys, so I knew I might not get as many chances to make a career out of baseball. But I thought if I do everything that I can with my chances, then I should be harder to turn away.

Jeremy Randolph pitched for the University of Alabama's baseball team in 2019. He was drafted in the 26th round of the MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Source: Alabama Athletics Photography

Then with the pandemic, I prepared myself for being let go so I wouldn't take it as hard. The Cardinals' player development coordinator Tony Ferreira and our farm director, Gary LaRocque, wished me the best of luck and said if I ever need anything that they're more than happy to help me with whatever I decide to do. And my fiance, Anna, has helped me keep calm and realize that eventually this will all pass. I'm just fearful of not having any money to make ends meet.

Making ends meet

To some degree it was tough making ends meet even when I was playing in the minor leagues last season.

I was getting around $400 a week from the Cardinals — I made, roughly, $13,000 last year, including my signing bonus and minor league salary, plus part-time jobs in the offseason.

As a minor league player, your signing bonus is basically expected to carry you through until you make it to the major leagues. So if you're not a big time signing bonus guy — basically only the guys taken in the first few rounds of the draft [first-round draft picks typically get multimillion-dollar bonuses] — it can be tough.

I got a $3,000 bonus in June 2019, and I spent it on gas and food. But it's long gone.

I could be making significantly more money not playing baseball, but I still want to chase my dream.
Jeremy Randolph
minor league baseball player

So I played from late June to September in 2019, and then I worked other jobs in the offseason, which lasts from September through February. I did stuff like driving an Uber and delivering for PostMates, and I worked at U.P.S. during the holiday season to make some extra cash.

I've told customers who ask me why I'm driving an Uber, "It's not like you think. I'm not making a bunch of money in sports, so I've got to find some other way to supplement that."

Now I've been doing a little bit of PostMates since the season was first postponed. I train for two to three hours every day, but there's a lot of time outside of that.

But we've been lucky, because my fiance has been able to work through the pandemic — she gives music lessons and does administrative work for School of Rock, the music school. She's also an aspiring songwriter and sings at weddings and just does various things to make ends meet. Last year, she made about $20,000.

Jeremy Randolph and his fiance, Anna Kline.
Source: Jeremy Randolph

We're both in Nashville and have two roommates because I was supposed to be gone this summer playing baseball. But now that I'm here, we'd like to have our own place, because we are getting married this October, if the coronavirus allows that. So we're we're trying to save up for that too.

Because was released by the Cardinals, I am eligible for some unemployment. I applied at the beginning of June, and I just got approved in early July. I'll be getting around $300 a week.

I have my master's degree and I could be making significantly more money not playing baseball, but I still want to chase my dream and give it as much time as I can. But how is that impacting my future? 

'A lifelong dream'

I was taking a summer class at the University of Alabama in June 2019, trying to finish my masters degree, when I got the call that I'd been drafted by the Cardinals. A scout called me and said, 'Hey, we're going to take you in the 26th round.' I don't remember much beyond that because it felt so surreal. 

That was pretty late in the draft, but still super exciting. I'd worked so hard, and have been playing baseball, probably since I was 5. 

I flew to the Cardinals' spring training complex in Jupiter, Florida for about a week, doing physicals and paperwork. Then I shipped out to Pennsylvania to pitch for the State College Spikes, the Cardinals' Class A Short Season farm team.

As a pitcher, I throw a pretty typical mix of a fastball, slider, cutter and change-up. I started some games, but was also a long reliever. I actually pitched on the day I got my graduate degree in August (I finished my classes online). We were at Lowell, Massachusetts against the Red Sox' minor league affiliate. I think I faced 10 guys and got all of them out. So it was a good day.

Because I was drafted in grad school, I am older than a lot of the other guys. Being older and a late pick, my prospect status would be the bottom of the barrel. I'm sure they don't see a bright future, but I do. And I'm working for it so that I can realize that future.

What's next

Coming into the 2020 season in March, I knew that I had really made some good progress in the offseason, so I was eager to show all of the work that I had put in. But the coronavirus just derailed it.

Obviously, being at a lower level of the minors, there's not a bunch of news being reported about our situation. Everything is geared towards the big league season, which makes sense. But it was tough having no sense of, 'Should I keep training? Can I find a job?'

So far, I worked in a warehouse part-time for about three weeks, doing just odds and ends. And one of my college teammates has a sales job and his company is hiring, so he helped me get an interview. Hopefully, I get that job and I'll be able to start full-time relatively soon so I can start making more money.

As for baseball, I reached out to a couple of contacts I have that work with various MLB teams that said it will be a little while before anybody's trying to sign minor league free agents. But I'm not really falling behind because no one else is playing. I'm still working out, and I'll be able to train on my own time, just like everyone who is still on a contract. That is the one benefit of the situation.

I also realize that baseball, whether I make the major leagues or not, is temporary. So I have a master's degree in sports management administration, and I got my undergraduate degree in finance from Wright State University in Ohio.

I've been reaching out to several people in different segments of the sports industry, like sports agents. That's always interested me. I could also reach out to the Tennessee Titans or the Nashville Sounds or the Predators, maybe work in an athletic department of a university.

It is in the back of my head: 'Am I missing out on having our own house and being more financially secure if I was to enter the workforce, rather than continue trying to play baseball?' So starting a new career is something I'm considering, but at the same time, getting drafted was like fulfilling a lifelong dream. And my fiance tells me, 'You'll regret this for the rest of your life if you don't try.' 

This season was going to be huge for me. I felt like this was the year where I'd either progress and move up in the system, or potentially get cut and have to figure that out. Now, if we don't play this year, next year I'll just be another year older.

This article is the result of multiple interviews that have been edited for clarity and flow.

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