By Alex Kerlin
Midland High School
“If you can dream it, you can do it,” Walt Disney once said. The quote hangs on a loose piece of paper draped over a worn locker that belongs to a minor league Lansing Lugnut baseball player.
This locker room is far from a trip to the spa. Other similar quotations hang over the rusty, 15-year-old green lockers. The locker room is about the size of a small classroom with an old wooden picnic table in the middle and chairs scattered all over the room.
It looks like a basement in the middle of reconstruction and there of fruit flies buzzing around the room. Nonetheless, it’s where the players relax to hangout and play cards before they head out to the field.
“It (playing minor league baseball) is not a glamorous job,” said Julia Janssen, director of marketing for the Lansing Lugnuts, a minor league baseball team. “They have to love what they do.”
These 25 active players receive about $1,200 each month and aren’t even guaranteed one day off a month. Their job is about the equivalent that a student interning at a company would make, Janssen said. They are always working nonstop and are at the field practicing for about 12 hours every day.
They are at the bottom of the baseball ladder and have come from all over the world to play ball in Lansing, Mich. They may not all be guaranteed to sign with a bonus (some do, which is above the $1,200 monthly salary) but they have a passion to play the game nonstop everyday, even if the minor league is the extent of their career.
“(Athletes) know how hard it is to go professional; they consider it when they dedicate so much time to their sport,” softball player Miranda Winowiecki said. “It’s the love of the game that matters and if someone gets drafted then it pays off.”
Winowiecki may not be a minor league baseball player from Latin America, but she has been playing softball for about 11 years. She said she has a drive to get a scholarship to play in college.
“Seeing my brother go through recruiting for college ball made me want to play in college as well so I wanted to continue playing hard in high school,” Winowiecki said.
She had never really considered playing in college until she saw how much success her brother had. He ended up playing on scholarship at Saint Peters College in New Jersey. This inspired her because she thinks it would be neat to play while earning a degree.
As a sophomore in high school, she is already looking ahead to the future in hopes to continue playing ball. She knows professional softball is not very big at all and chances of ever getting there are very slim, but it’s the love of the game that keeps her going.
Playing seven days a week all year long pays off, Winowiecki said. For example her defining career moment when she hit a grand slam in a tournament and brought her Traverse City team to a win.
There are high school athletes all over the world like Winowiecki, who dream of playing at the next level. But colleges can put pressure on athletes to make sacrifices to dedicate their whole life to a sport just so they can play a few years at that level.
Michigan State University hockey player Drew Palmisano said he spent two days a week driving over an hour away to make practices, and his parents spent hours on the weekends carting him around to tournaments. His junior year in high school he moved away to live with a host family so he could play two years on a Junior-A team.
He is currently a junior at MSU and plays goalie. His overall record is 15- 10-5 with two shutouts. He has traveled a long road to get to where he is today.
“I was gone every weekend—I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school but as I got older there was a reason I sacrificed that,” said Palmisano. “It’s a dream come true that I’m here right now.”
His supporting cast is his family and they offer him motivation to keep persevering and working hard. There are about 30 possible professional goalie positions in the country, while there are over 100 goalies at various levels training hard for that spot each year. He may even consider going over to Europe to play if it comes down to it.
“My motivation for winning is I never want to be second. I’m on the ice every day for two hours and strive to have a 3.0 GPA (grade point average) or above and it was always my plan to become a professional athlete,” Palmisano said.
According the NCAA, about 3-6 percent of high school athletes actually receive a scholarship to play for a sport like basketball, baseball or football in college. Hockey is a bit higher, at 11 percent.
NHL hockey player John-Michael Liles said that the sport you play has to be something you are very passionate about.
“If you don’t do your work in high school, you won’t make it in college. You don’t want to get left behind,” Liles said.
Liles said training for a sport during school may seem stressful and hectic at the time, but it’s also a very special time. You have to go with what you are comfortable with.
It doesn’t matter if you want to be a legendary basketball player for a Big Ten school, or a professional hockey player or even director of marketing for a local minor league baseball team. It’s about following a dream and using resources to get there.
“If you want to work in sports, get your foot in the door somewhere,” Janssen said.
Or as another quote hanging above a Lansing Lugnut’s locker says, “Swing hard, you might hit the ball.” This was from Dan Marino, Hall of Fame quarterback, who also was drafted as a baseball player out of high school.