There’s the minor league grind.
Then there’s the indy ball grind.
And then… on a whole other level… you have the Black Sox grind.
I was fortunate enough to experience this first hand when I was invited to spend two days with the “Road Warrior” Black Sox.
The team, who is currently in the middle of their spring training schedule, played two exhibition games in Washington, PA (practically my “hometown”) this week.
I’ve known Joe Torre, the Black Sox owner/manager, for many years thanks to this website and the fact that we generally run around with the same circles in baseball. He told me that he would love for me to come out, support the guys, and get the full Black Sox experience. The full experience, as it turns out, allowed me to be in the clubhouse and in the dugout during the games.
And what an experience it was.
As we said our “see you laters” after the game yesterday, Joe turned to me and said, “Are you finally sold yet?”
I was always sold on the Black Sox idea. Their “change the culture” mentality is something that I want to see happen in indy ball. But I’ll admit that before the past two days, I had bought the product but still kept the tag and receipt. Now, I’m completely in. The tag and receipt have been thrown in the trash, and I’m not looking back now.
If you’ve never read my previous post(s) or heard of the Black Sox, let me try to sum up who they are…
When you think of the Black Sox, think of a good old fashion barnstorming baseball team. The team is made up of unsigned players who travel around the country playing various indy ball teams during their spring trainings. Their hopes are that a manager somewhere along the way will like what they see and want to sign them for the upcoming season.
The Black Sox like to say “we are not for everyone” and that is absolutely true. The barnstorming life is brutal. Some times they are given a hotel to stay at when they’re in town, but other times they have to find their own place to stay, whether it’s with a host family, a friend they know, or paying out-of-pocket for a hotel room. The guys then drive themselves from city to city with their cars filled to the max with people and bags.
The guys played two morning games in Washington, PA (May 3rd and 4th) and then, when their game ended after 1 PM on Friday, they drove straight to Florence, KY (over a 4 hour drive) to play ANOTHER game starting at 7.
They are the true definition of baseball grinders, but of course, it’s been that way for most of them their entire careers.
I could tell you their stories, everyone in indy ball has one, but they know that’s not important. Failed draft picks, injuries, small town colleges, scammed indy leagues, near meaningless stats from low-level indy leagues… every guy has had something lead them to this team. No one is going to care about your story here.
The players all play with a chip on their shoulder and have an “us against the world” mentality. When you realize just how cutthroat indy ball is, you can’t blame them. The Black Sox have an “NWO” wrestling theme. They want to come in, be the renegade group, take over, and succeed. They want to “change the culture” of what independent baseball is all about.
In the highly competitive world that they’re in, it would be easy for the guys to care more about themselves than the team. Essentially they ARE competing against each other for a job. But the guys know that they can’t think like that. You have to be a TEAM and put the team first before your own individual stats. Playing as a team will eventually bring the individual notoriety if you deserve it.
After spending the last two days with the team, I can honestly say that the majority of the guys understand that. They’re sold and have already thrown away the tag and receipt. There are still a few that bought in, but aren’t completely sold yet. And the truth is, they’ll either figure it out, or they’ll eventually fail… at least in this system.
These past days have been an eye-opening experience to say the least. I’m sure on the first day, most guys had no idea why I was in the clubhouse and dugout. The few guys that I’ve known over the years welcomed me in with open arms, but the others were apprehensive. I was a bit apprehensive on that first day too. I layed low in the manager’s office in the clubhouse pregame and was more a fly on the wall in the dugout than a part of the team.
But by the second day, I definitely felt like I belonged just a bit more. I started talking to the guys and got to know a little bit more of their stories. I could see the passion in their eyes when they talked about the game. I was standing on the railing with them and cheering for their victories, however small they were, during the game.
Over the last three years, I’ve watched this team from the other side of the wall. The last two years were rough to say the least. They couldn’t compete, and they knew it. This year, however, I was able to see a team that was very much improved from the last few years. They came in and were competitive. They lost both games, 6-5 and 5-3, but they competed and really, that was a win itself. Players proved that they belonged on that field. They put themselves in a position to be seen, and that’s all they can ask for at this point.
Seeing them leave it all out on the field, coming in the dugout and the clubhouse giving each other advice, putting in extra work after games, watching video… that’s what sold me.
Guys, thank you for letting me into your world for the last few days, even though I know some of you probably didn’t think I should be there.
Please know that you guys have my utmost respect. It may have only been two days, but I want you guys to succeed more than most people ever will. You give it everything you have just for that chance to keep playing.
I see that. I believe in you.