How does the team look this year?"
"We have no idea how our team is going to look," says Brian Beban, 35, assistant general manager of the Eugene (Oregon) Emeralds. The Ems are a Single-A short-season affiliate of the San Diego Padres. Beban continues, "The team, at least parts of it, are at extended spring-training in Peoria. We get a majority of our players from the first-year player draft, held the first Tuesday and Wednesday in June. Our draft is just like the NFL or NBA draft, except it doesn't get publicity. So, we won't know what our team is going to be like until a week before opening day."
I note opening day is June 24. "So, the Padres draft players and hand some over to you. The fact that a player was with you last year doesn't mean a thing for this year?"
"Correct. Five or six guys from last year's team have already been released. A majority of them moved up to Ft. Wayne [Ft. Wayne Wizards, A league]. But, the Padres do all that. They have a scouting director, scouts, national cross-checkers, and bird dogs who do all that work. The Padres hold a draft, sign the players, and then assign players to us."
Not a bad business. "How long can somebody stay in Single-A? Doesn't he have to move up or get out?"
"At our level, there's a maximum time frame. You're allowed to have four players ages 23 or older. You can sign a Latin player, like a Dominican or a Venezuelan, who's 16 years old. So, theoretically, he can play seven years of short-season ball. But, if he plays seven seasons of short-season ball, he's not a very good prospect."
"Will any club carry him that long?" I'd like to shake that man's hand.
"There are some guys who play four years of short-season," Beban says. "Here's how it works in minor-league baseball: every major-league team has six or seven minor-league teams. And then, every team usually has one complex in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela where they play games. The Padres have a Dominican summer-league team. That's where they put all their really young guys, the 16-year-olds. Then, a player goes from the Dominican summer league up to Peoria [Peoria Padres, rookie league]. And then, in his third year, when he's 18, he would come to Eugene. But, like I said, the majority of our players are first-year pros who come out of the draft. We mainly get 21- and 22-year-old college players."
That first day must be a bitch. "What's it like for college kids who have always been the best athlete on every team they've ever played for to suddenly be in a situation where everybody is great?"
"They're humbled," Beban says. "There are not a lot of guys who come in and tear up the league. A perfect example is Matt Bush [Mission Bay High School alumni], the first player picked in the draft. He was the LeBron James of Major League Baseball in 2004. He came to Eugene and barely hit .200, made a lot of errors and struggled. Right now he's in Lake Ellsinore, in advanced A league. He'll probably play there this year and next year he'll be in Mobile [BayBears, AA league], and the year after that he'll go to Portland [Beavers, AAA league]."
"What's in this for you?"
"We're a business. The fact that we don't have to deal with the players is helpful for us. The Padres provide the trainer, the manager, two coaches, and every home stand we usually have scouts and roving instructors who come through to help players. All we do is provide a place to play and a good environment."
I'm beginning to see myself as a minor-league executive. "How does it work from your end? I assume you have a contract with the Padres and at some point that contract ends and then you'd look around for a better deal. How do you find a major-league sponsor?"
"They're called Player Development Contracts, a PDC," Beban says. "They're either two-or four-year deals. After every cycle, a major-league team or minor-league affiliate can get out of their contract. Major League Baseball commissioner's office publishes a list of all the major-league teams and minor-league teams that are available in each classification, and then the teams talk.
Beban tells me his club plays 38 home games and 38 away, "Seventy-six games in 80 days." General admission is $5.50. Players are paid $850 per month. The Ems average 3500 fans for every game, the 11th highest attendance in short-season baseball.
I wonder, "What do you do during the rest of the year?"
"We sell. We start selling billboards and radio and promotions."