Today is Opening Day and I couldn’t be more excited. Before you check your calendar to verify that it is nearing the end of June, I will let you know that I am talking about the first home stand of the year for the Low-A level, short season Vermont Lake Monsters, an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. While this is one of the lowest levels of professional baseball, it is also one of the purest still left, and one that I enjoy immensely.
The Lake Monsters are part of the New York Penn League, which has been a fixture in the minor leagues, with its origins hailing back to 1939. The team consists mainly of recently drafted high school and college players, with the occasional smattering of others from impoverished Latin countries. It is interesting to see a collection of kids each year, most of whom are just starting out on their journey to hopefully make the Major Leagues.
I can’t imagine that more than 2-3% of the players who pass through with the Lake Monsters end up making the Major Leagues. Years of observation tell me that the average player who plays here make it only one or two levels above Vermont before they ultimately fade from the game. For me, it is interesting to see who the next will be who does navigate their way through the minor league system and play in the Majors. Most of those who do make it won’t be there long. The statistics are there to back it up. Over the years, Vermont has seen such top caliber players as Orlando Cabrera, Jason Bay, and Jordan Zimmerman, and they have also had Michael Hinckley, Luke Montz, and Justin Maxwell. To me it doesn’t matter. I think that just reaching your goal, no matter how long you get to live it, is the achievement and is worthy of respect.
The different range of background amongst the players is always interesting to see. You have a few players each year who have received large signing bonuses that can exceed six figures, and in the rarest of situations, seven figures. These players stand out not because of attitude or poor work ethic, but usually because of the large shiny vehicles they inevitably drive. An even larger group are the players whose signing money and yearly salary, if spread over a year would barely surpass minimum wage. Each season I have attended, these players of various backgrounds come together and leave it all out on the field, hoping for that next promotion that will bring them one step closer to their Major League dreams.
So, the season is finally here and I am excited. It will be interesting to see who will make it and who won’t. No matter who falls into what group, each player truly has gone a lot further than many others have. Many people are out there who can’t say that they have even been able to chase their dreams. So, as long as these players are still on the field, still throwing, and still hitting, there remains a chance that their aspirations will live on for at least one more day.