In this, the 44th installment of Minor Issues, Justin Ruggiano returns to talk about the trials and tribulations of raising a family, and eating well, on a minor-league salary. A 28-year-old outfielder in the Tampa Bay organization, Ruggiano is currently with the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

David Laurila: You have a wife and a toddler. How does that impact your life as a professional baseball player?

Justin Ruggiano: Oh man, it’s awesome. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me, because after you a game, especially if you have a bad game, you kind of sit on it for awhile. Now I come home to a wife and a kid, and it totally takes my mind off of things that happened on the field. That’s exactly what you want, because this game can be stressful and if you put too much into it all the time, you’re going to wear yourself down. Being able to go home to a family is the best thing that could have happened to me in baseball.

They actually just had to leave.  The minor leagues are tough; the salaries aren’t like they are in the big leagues and it really wasn’t financially feasible for them to stay the whole month of August, when [the team] is on the road for basically the whole month. So they left, and it’s going to be a hard month, month and a half, without them.

In the minor leagues, you have to be a lot more frugal. You have to separate needs and wants a little more, and for me, a must-have is having my family with me. No matter what — minor leagues or big leagues — they’re going to be with me and we’re going to go through this together. With a big league salary, you can fly them out and do whatever you want, and here it isn’t so easy. This year I finally got called up again and my wife actually packed up the car, in Durham, and drove 11 hours with a toddler, and her mom, who had happened to have flown in, down to Florida. They stayed for four days and then came the phone call saying that we were going back. And they had to do it by themselves. I couldn’t drive the car for them; I couldn’t help them with anything. With a less than one year old in the car, it’s not easy. He’s got diapers, and he’s got energy and wants to get out all the time, so it turns an 11-hour trip into about 15 hours. It makes it really, really tough, but in the end we get it figured out.

DL: In a more general sense, do you think that most fans understand what life in the minor leagues is really like?

JR: No, I don’t think most of them have any idea. There is a huge strain put on people as far as things like sleep deprivation and traveling away from family. And for the most part, we have poor diets. It’s not because we don’t want to eat well, but we travel late at night and you want to eat, and what is there to stop at? It’s usually a gas station. So what are we fueling our bodies with? We get $25 a day for meal money, but that’s $25 minus $12 dollars plus whatever tip you want to give the clubbie. Once you take that away, you have about $10 a day to eat with, and you can’t do much with that.

In the big leagues, the clubhouse dues are $50 and the meal money is about $85. And in the big leagues, you really only need one meal off the field, because when you get to the field, they always have food, and they have it after the game. They take care of you really well. Here, if you show up early, your options are peanut butter and jelly, and that’s about it. Maybe a banana will be left out from the night before.  Food-wise, it's a different ballgame down here.

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Having read this mini-piece and Jim Caple's piece over at ESPN (about making it to the bigs in Seattle or not in Tacoma), I come to a number of conclusions regarding those who are considered "fringe MLBers": - you gotta have the love for the game - you gotta have the support of your family - the temptation to cheat (e.g HGH, steroids whatever) must be tremendously huge considering the vast differences in lifestyles of a major leaguer and a minor leaguer.
I find it bizarre that teams invest millions in these young players, but don't spend money so they can eat well.
I would imagine that spending $2 million per club in the next minor league agreement to increase farmhand salaries across the board by $10,000 a year would have a much larger effect on the quality of life and quality of play in the minors than abolishing the draft. All those high school kids in the lower rounds that chose not to sign - a healthy number of them might well have looked differently on their Rookie league contract if they were going to make $20K for six months' work rather than about $8K.