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Legends On Deck

Full Houses In Rookie Complex Baseball

Before all of this ever went down
In another place, another town
You were just a face in the crowd – Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne

Hands down, the most crowded clubhouses in professional baseball belong to the teams in Florida’s Gulf Coast League and Arizona’s Rookie Summer League.

sox

GCL Sox players by Barbara Boxleitner

The Gulf Coast League and Arizona Summer League seasons begin in  late June each year, several weeks after MLB’s annual first year player draft concludes. The draft could add up to fifty new players to an organization, a number of which will report to the parent club’s spring training complex to begin workouts and either be assigned to a rookie league team or another level in the system.

The players who remain and make up the bulk of the current season’s entry in the GCL or ASL will share clubhouse space with major and minor league players rehabbing from various injuries suffered during the early part of the season, players coming back from off season surgeries, and the occasional player serving an in-season suspension for various infractions.

From June through August, complex clubhouses truly do become the Statue Of Liberty of baseball …”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Tommy John surgery victims and your P.E.D. abusers yearning to breathe free”.

At various times during the GCL Season thus far, the Gulf Coast Red Sox have used 41 players in game action, have had rehabbing minor league players such as outfielders Henry Ramos and Danny Mars, pitcher Daniel McGrath and major league pitcher Heath Hembree appear in games. Among others working out at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers have been 2015 draftee Kevin Kelliher (assigned to short season Lowell, but rehabbing an injury), ex-University of Florida ace Karsten Whitson (injury rehab), Boston’s 6th pick in the 2015 draft, righthander Travis Lakins (not yet ready for game action) and one of the Red Sox two number one picks in 2014, Michael Kopech, who is serving a 50 game suspension for a performance enhancing drug.

Karsten Whitson

Karsten Whitson (Photo by Brita Meng Outzen)

In addition, some late signees from the June draft (mostly college players) work out at the various complexes while awaiting their assignment to either the organization’s short season rookie league club or elsewhere. Sometimes called “the redshirts” they are literally a squad of players who practice alongside the GCL and ASL team members, but will most likely never appear in a game at that level.

Joining this assortment of athletes in the often cramped clubhouses are the players who make up the rest of the complex league teams, the ones who were not assigned to a full season minor league team out of spring training and have participated in Extended Spring Training (baseball’s version of The Island Of Misfit Toys) .

For a player who reports to spring training in February for minor league early camp (the regular minor league spring camp usually opens the first week of March), participates in extended spring and then is assigned to the Gulf Coast League or Arizona Summer League and then is elected to participate in the fall Instructional league (September and October), every day is like “Groundhog Day”

For those players, their lives are identical each day and week for almost eight months. For the Red Sox players, it is six days a week of the same drills, the same basic menu at breakfast and lunch, and when they play games , it is always against the same three organizations, the ones closest to their home base, the Minnesota Twins (about six miles away in the same county), the Tampa Bay Rays , housed at the Charlotte Sports Complex, about 45 minutes from Fenway South, and the Baltimore Orioles based in Sarasota, an hour away.

Occasionally in spring training, extended spring or instructional league the organization will have a “camp day” of intrasquad games, but that is really the only variety they have.

Yes, these minor league players have a nice payday if they reach the major leagues, but they have a long (and crowded) road to get there.

Brian Mullen

Brian is a Boston native and art school student who took a summer job with a baseball team and never left. He has been employed by the Boston Red Sox in one capacity or another since 1982. He also follows and blogs college basketball. Follow him on Twitter @BostonBrian2015