October 29, 2012
The Proper Care and Feeding of Minor Leaguers
A couple of months ago, I got on a plane to Orlando, not to see an anthropomorphic mouse and a duck who doesn’t wear pants, but to do actual work. It’s not often that I travel for work, but I do enjoy a good plane ride, because it’s one of the few times that I can sit down and read a book without feeling guilty. On this trip, my companion was Dirk Hayhurst’s Bullpen Gospels, which had been sitting on my shelf for a while. For those who haven’t yet read it (what are you doing with your lives?), Hayhurst discusses his travels through the minors and the real life that happens in between the last out and "play ball!" (and yes, I got that right). It could double as an anthropological field study of a very curious culture: the minor-league baseball player.
In one particularly enlightening chapter, Hayhurst talks about the feeding habits of this heretofore undocumented group. In short, they were the kind of habits that would make any public health worker blanche. All of Hayhurst’s teammates were human beings (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and humans in general need to eat, particularly humans who make their living through intense physical activity. What’s striking is that when it came to meal time, the team generally handed the players a bit of meal money and said, “You’re on your own.” Last week, at Grantland, BP alumnus Jonah Keri interviewed Tigers reliever Phil Coke, who talked about his trip through the minors and discussed many of the same issues.
Not surprisingly, left with little cash, a need for calorie-dense food, and no infrastructure with which to purchase and/or cook healthy food, baseball players fall back on food that is quick, fatty, and cheap, not to mention available everywhere: fast food. Fast food every day? That would make for an interesting documentary.
Players’ nutrition habits are part of the unseen underbelly of Minor League Baseball. Now, in fairness, it's not fast food all the time. In talking to a couple people in the know, I learned that sometimes, a team will spring for a post-game spread for the players, although the frequency of these meals varies from organization to organization and even from level to level within a system. But especially on the road, players do end up eating a lot of fast food—in a business where prime physical conditioning is something of a job requirement.