Independent Professional Baseball Players: players who have spent some time in the minor leagues. Most players have been released, or were never considered good enough to sign in the first place. It the place for dreamers, hangers-on and guys to muster one last hurrah. But many have used the independent leagues as a place to display their talents to the scouts before moving on to the affiliated minor leagues.
Unlike many jobs across North America, independent baseball players do not have a union or company department like Human Resources. They can be released almost at any time, for almost any reason, and there is usually nothing in their contracts which guarantees any sort of payment after players retire. When told all about this, many fans say, “Why would these players do that?!?”
Here are a few of the reasons:
A genuine love of the game: Many players in independent baseball believe that they have been overlooked by the Major League teams’ scouting departments. They genuinely believe that they deserve a chance to be in an “affiliated” farm team with one of the Major League organizations; and they truly love playing baseball. Many fans whom have attended independent baseball games comment on the hustle and passion of the players. A player who believes that he was overlooked may play with a “chip on his shoulder” in order to prove that he belongs with a Major League-affiliated farm team.
A need to be closer to home: Often, there are a few guys in each independent league who genuinely belong in a higher level of baseball. For whatever reason, however, they need to be closer to home with a less-grueling travel schedule. Sometimes players just started a family, others need to help out with a sick family member, and others need the support of friends and family in order to be comfortable with playing at the professional level.
A desire to continue his career in baseball: Many players will play in an independent baseball league in order to gain credibility for his post-playing career. Certain players want to manage or coach in professional baseball, others want to coach at the college level, and others want to transition to the front office of a professional sports team after they retire.
A need for camaraderie: If you have ever watched any documentary about “life in the minors” then you know that the players love playing baseball, enjoy crazy antics with their teammates, playing cards in the clubhouse, and the chance to develop lifelong friends especially on those long bus trips! If a player is good enough to be considered professional then many will take the opportunity to play in the independent leagues because he knows how competitive the demand is. Other players from around the continent are more than willing to take his spot, so he knows that he part of an elite level of baseball even though it is considered to be independent of the affiliated organizations.
A chance to rebuild his career: Sometimes an extremely talented player ends up in an independent league due to an injury, salary cap move, or simply due to “politics” in organized baseball. Such a player will play on an independent baseball team in order to prove to scouts that he is healthy, willing to go back at a more economical price, or simply that the other team which released him made a mistake. In a given year, dozens of players in independent baseball sign contracts with affiliated Minor League teams; and each year a few will get to play in the Major Leagues.
The next time you see an independent baseball game, or if you meet some independent baseball players around town, now you have a better understanding of why they do what they do regardless of the price at which they play. If you ever have said that you think pro athletes need to play with more passion and that they are overpaid, then be sure to attend an independent pro baseball game. You will be pleasantly surprised!