by Rob Loeber
What would you do for a dream? How far would you go to achieve a lifelong goal?
Those are the questions thousands of athletes ask themselves every single day. From Alaska to Maine and all points in between, minor league and semi-pro players are making enormous sacrifices to stay on the field, rink, or court.
This recession has hit America hard over the last few years, but economic struggles are nothing new for the players who toil in obscurity and put their bodies on the line for very little reward.
The Tulsa Talons play in the Arena Football League and the average Talons’ player takes home $400 per week. That adds up to $7200 for a complete 18-game season. These are men with college degrees. Most of them have families but most of them don’t have second jobs because of the time required for practice, travel, and games.
What would you do for a dream? Would you walk away from the cushy desk job and the 401k package to throw yourself full-speed at another human being for 400 bucks?
I asked one Talons player why he does it. “I love football,” he told me. “I can’t imagine giving this up.”
The Talons players have almost no chance of ever making an NFL roster, but out there on the practice field they were smiling and laughing throughout every drill and after every play. They looked joyful. They looked like kids. How many of us can say our jobs make us feel like kids again?
How far would you go to chase a dream? Tulsa Oilers forward Bates Battaglia went to Connecticut, Mississippi, Canada, New York, Finland, and Germany just to chase a frozen rubber disk up and down a sheet of ice. Battaglia made it to the NHL, playing 11 seasons with Carolina, Colorado, Washington, and Toronto. The remarkable thing is, Battaglia has played for six different minor league teams since his NHL career ended in 2008. Battaglia reached the pinnacle of his sport, and here he is in the hockey hotbed of Northeast Oklahoma still chasing that same puck. Here he is in the Central Hockey League where the average salary is just over $600 per week, his 35-year old body taking a nightly pounding from kids in their early 20’s.
What would you give up to see a wish come true? Only one out of every ten minor league baseball players makes it to the big show. Could you play for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers and pull down $1500 a month while spending countless hours on a bus and missing your family all for a 10% chance of playing one game in the majors? There’s no glamour, no groupies, and no glory at that level of baseball, or at the minor league level of any sport for that matter.
Sure, these guys still get paid to play a game. Of course it’s easy to say you’d trade places with them in a heartbeat. But would you?
It might mean giving up wealth and comfort. It might mean trading in leather seats for something with better gas mileage. It might mean downgrading health insurance, dipping into savings or make other huge cuts. But it might just mean you get to feel like a kid again.
Whatever dream you had as a kid, sports or not, wouldn’t you be happier if you were living like minor league and semi-pro athletes and chasing that dream with unwavering passion? Yeah, I think so too.
The pro stars have money, fame, and unbelievable talents that have to be admired. The little guy may never be a star, he may never have money, and he’s making the most of what few skills he has. I admire him even more.