An Interview with LOD’s David Conde
David Conde is the Founder and Executive Editor of Legends on Deck. I caught up with him to ask him his thoughts on a number of issues currently facing baseball at all levels. Here what we discussed:
BK: David, it’s good to catch up with you and talk baseball. It seems like it’s been such a long time since we have been able to see a live game. You recently wrote an article for LOD about what you have been doing in the absence of professional baseball and your son’s return to play. Let’s start with the youth side. When did your boys return to playing? Did they just restart the Spring season where they left off? I know there are new health and social distancing guidelines in place. Tell us a little more about this whole experience.
DC: Actually, my oldest son has not returned to play. We had two 13U-15U teams in our Babe Ruth League charter and one of them I coached last fall and into the spring but after the Covid-19 quarantine, we could not get things restarted. I also don’t coach in June or July, it’s too hot (he laughs), but I mostly set the time aside for things with my family. My son is already 14, and getting ready for high school, so he’s going to be working out with a buddy of mine who runs a travel ball organization. My younger son’s Little League did start up again a couple weeks ago. It’s been kind of a trial by error. Some kids did not return and it was difficult to practice at the start. But, I think the kids have enjoyed it, especially being in quarantine for so long. The social distancing was awkward at first. We were only allowed to have six players on the field at one time, 10 total, with everyone spaced six feet apart. I mean, this is baseball, it’s very difficult for us to do that, so practices really didn’t pop off. Plus, the county and league didn’t want any kids in the dugout, so they expected us to spread them out six feet apart down the foul line on the outside side of the fence. That didn’t work as planned and In my opinion, they probably should have just cancelled the spring season and started up again in the fall. We did compete in a few games this past few weeks and I was kind of glad we did, even with all of the new set of rules, because it reunited us coaches and kids and made us all appreciative of the time we got to spend together again.
BK: I know you are passionate about youth baseball and your boys both play competitively. You have been a coach and a league official. Where are your boys right now in their development as players? What is your role in the process? And finally, what advice do you have for parents who are looking to have their kids involved in youth baseball?
DC: I have been impressed with my boys in their development, considering all this time off. It almost seems like it has helped. Their arms seem stronger and their swing looks good. Now they haven’t seen much live pitching and with my oldest not on a team right now, I started taking him to the cage and watching him size up the ball and drive it, which showed me that he hasn’t lost a step. We’re going to keep working on skills over the Summer and get ready for Fall ball. Baseball is not an easy sport and with regards to my advice to parents looking to having their child play baseball, if a child is a natural athlete and plays other sports, they might be able to pick up the game as a 12 or 13 year old. But generally, you want to get them familiar with the fundamentals at a younger age. Start with tee-ball or at least the lower levels of Little League. Ultimately, you want them to have fun and have confidence in playing the game. Not everyone is cut out for it, so you have to know your kid. I have seen so many kids get frustrated with the game and quit because they can’t compete on the same levels as other kids that have been playing longer. But if they really want to try and put the work in, I do believe they can develop into a good ball player, but it all starts with them and wanting to play the game and not the parent forcing them to play. Baseball is not for everyone.
BK: Let’s move along to Minor League Baseball. Unfortunately, this is going to be a season without MiLB. What impact do you think that has for baseball as a game, but also for the players themselves?
DC: Honestly, it sucks! Obviously, COVID has had such a major impact on everything, baseball included. So many things shut down. It is a real setback for everyone in the game. Many players are getting cut or going without pay. You have some great organizations like More Than Baseball helping out, but there’s only so much that can be done. A lot of these guys don’t even make enough to rent their own place. You wonder how this will set back the progression of even the top prospects. When you look at how this season will impact Major League Baseball’s revenue, that’s going to have a very negative impact on the minors.
BK: In recent years, you have been passionate about the pay and conditions of players at the minor league level. Most people may not know how little most minor league players get paid. It seemed like your argument for better pay was gaining steam last season. Now, with the lost season and many minor league baseball teams losing revenue, does this change things regarding pay for minor leaguers? What are your thoughts on this as it stands today?
DC: I mentioned the organization More Than Baseball, they’ve been doing great work to bring attention to minor league pay and conditions. Most people don’t know how little these guys make. Some of the high draft picks get those bigger signing bonuses, but that’s not the majority of players. As I said, it’s even hard to pay for an apartment. Oftentimes, host families will put players up for the season. This whole COVID situation and the lost season is going to have a really negative impact on MiLB teams and players. It’s probably going to set things back even more.
BK: Prior to this whole COVID-19 pandemic and the lost season, MLB was pushing for a reduction of MiLB franchises by 40 or more teams. The pandemic has put even more franchises in economic turmoil. Sports Illustrated even printed a cover story, Minor League Baseball in Crisis, just a few weeks ago. What changes do you see coming for MiLB in 2021? How do you think those changes might impact the game long term?
DC: MLB teams will suffer from lost revenue this season and that’s going to trickle down to the minor league level. I certainly see MLB going through with their plans to reduce the number of minor league teams and that will have a negative impact on those minor league cities and fans. Long term, I hope it can come back strong. I remember the 1994 Strike season and how that took many fans away from the game for a few years. I was watching the ESPN 30 for 30 special on Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and the Home Run race in 1998. That’s when baseball really bounced back, so it took a few years. Again, it’s going to be MiLB that suffers the most. I’d like to see MLB create some kind of trust fund to assist minor league players, but I am not sure when or if that will happen.
BK: Legends of Deck spent a lot of time covering the Florida State League last season. You have been covering the FSL All-Star Game for a few years now. What are your thoughts on the Florida State League as an important league for top baseball talent? What does it mean to the communities in Florida? And, finally, do you think the FSL will weather the storm of the “lost season” better or worse than other leagues?
DC: Living in Florida and watching the Florida State League is a lot of fun. While the FSL is considered high-A ball, it’s almost like watching a Triple-A game. I have seen some talent come through that have just catapulted quickly to the major league level. You have to remember these teams are playing in Spring Training facilities, so they have access to a lot of staff and training opportunities that other leagues don’t. I really hope COVID-19 doesn’t have too much of an impact on the Florida State League. Most of the teams are located in more populated areas and as a fan, it’s a great opportunity to see top talent up close. I think, ultimately, the FSL will survive because of the close association with the MLB teams and top rate facilities. I am looking forward to getting them back in 2021.
BK: Over to the Majors! MLB just announced a new plan for a 60 game regular season, as well as a postseason. Spring Training will resume in early July and the season will begin in late July. First of all, what is your perspective on MLB taking so long to reach an agreement? Secondly, what do you think of a 60 game season? Do you think it lends any advantages to certain teams rather than others?
DC: There’s been a lot of back and forth between the players and owners. Debate over when to start, what to pay, how many games and so on. I guess 60 games is better than nothing, but it seems they could have reached an agreement earlier and started already. I understand the concerns over the health of the players. Not having any crowds will be strange, but maybe they will allow some crowds as the season progresses. You have to imagine that these guys have had a lot of time to work out at home and they could be a lot stronger as a result. I think it benefits pitchers a lot, because there will be less stress on their arms with only 60 games. It is hard to say which teams exactly this will benefit.
BK: This agreement includes a number of rule changes. For example, under this plan the National League will adopt the Designated Hitter. You’re a Mets fan. What are your opinions on the DH? Do you think this is likely to become a permanent fixture in both leagues in the seasons to come?
DC: I think it will ultimately hurt the NL teams this year, because they do not have rosters built for this. They don’t have obvious power guys sitting on the bench ready to fill these roles. So, for this season, it will likely hurt. I don’t mind moving in that direction, but give these NL teams another year to adjust and they can build rosters with a DH in mind.
BK: You grew up in New York, correct? I have always wondered what makes people who grow up in a two team city pick one team over another? Why did you become a Mets fan and not a Yankees fan?
DC: Yes, growing up in New York there were some people who liked both teams. But, mostly you had to choose one. My mom was the one who got me into the Mets. That 1986 Mets World Series Championship team was a major childhood memory for me. It was fun to rub it into all my friends who were Yankees fans. They always thought they rooted for the team that won all the time. The Mets were always seen as the second rate team. Losing to the Yankees in the 2000 World Series didn’t help that perception. But the Subway Series that began in the 1997 season, really helped build that Yankees vs Mets debate into a real rivalry. Most of my family are Yankees fans, so there’s always been that back and forth between family members. I’ve raised my kids to be Mets fans and steered them away from the Yankees (David Laughs), but, at the end of the day I am a baseball fan. My kids and I still I love my team, but we love the game even more.
Growing Legends on Deck
BK: Finally, let our readers know a little more about Legends on Deck. Why did you start this site? What do you like best about it right now? What do you think we can accomplish here in the future?
DC: Back in 2014, I was the Senior Editor for MetsMinors.net and John Ginder was one of my top writers. I remember I was covering the Mets at Spring Training in Port St. Lucie and then went up to Citi Field and covered a game up there. I was in the press box at an MLB ballpark and it seemed like I really made it. I remember thinking at the time that it was really cool to write about my favorite team, but it would be great to expand to all baseball. John and I came up with the name Legends On Deck, thinking it was a great name to describe what we would do. The focus was on Minor League Baseball and covering those players who might become the next superstars.
We launched in 2015 and started growing in 2016. One thing, I have always tried to do with LOD is provide that platform for writers to focus on what they want to write about. Everyone has their own unique style and areas of interest. I have seen it as a way to allow people who want to write about baseball the opportunity to build a following as a writer. It’s also a great way to highlight a lot of these minor leaguer’s who don’t get the coverage.
John has since moved on to other hobbies in his life, but I will always be very grateful for his friendship and guidance in helping LOD to grow and be where it is today. Many opportunities came our way early on and it continues and I could not have done it alone without his help and the help of so many great people who have been a part of the journey all these years. There are so many names and I would not want to miss any, but if they are reading this, they know who they are. I am very grateful to them.
Some of the goals I have for the website would be to expand the number of writers and areas we cover. I’d love to get some writers covering teams out West, it’s kind of a blind spot for us. There’s a lot of stories ready to be written out there, things we don’t even know about yet. We’ve got good relationships with the teams who allow us to cover games at the ballparks. We’ve got an amazing photographer, Matthew Carper, who has contributed so much great work to LOD and not only with his photography skills, but with his desire to grow the LOD brand on so many levels. His daughter Myleigh, has been writing for us as well, sharing some amazing player interviews and she is barely 14 years old. They do a lot in the Midwest League. Jeff Francis is also providing fantastic content from down in the Bahamas. He has an extensive baseball background. And I can not fail to mention you Brian, your dedication to the site and how you have embraced what our vision has always been, has truly been a godsend to this journey. I am extremely thankful to have such talented people a part of this great site.
The goal is to continue to expand our reach and provide a platform for writers. It was never David Conde or John Ginder’s website, but a platform for people who love the game to write their own, unique stories. The plan is to do this for a long time.