I was talking to fellow sportswriter Jen Mac Ramos (@jenmacramos) on Twitter. She had gone to the SABR Analytics conference and heard from several baseball officials about a variety of topics. One that came up was internship pay where Billy Eppler, GM of the Los Angeles Angels, said that “interns are young and know how to live cheaply.” While that may be true, it’s incredibly hard for those of us who are of middle to lower-class standing. In the end, I think it hurts the diversity of applicants that the MLB and MiLB want to bring into front offices around the country.
I accidentally found the world of baseball media in college after meeting a minor league broadcaster at a college newspaper convention. I shadowed him and the media department at the ballpark and was offered an internship which I accepted. It was unpaid which wasn’t a problem at first because I was only going to be there for the fall and my college was only 30 minutes away from the ballpark. However, whenever my boss landed a job in Triple-A, I was asked to stay for the whole season and I didn’t have tons of money saved to pay for a summer apartment. While other interns in the office had doctors and lawyers for parents, mine were a truck driver and a mail carrier. My parents have always been extremely supportive pushing me to follow my dream of working in baseball but can’t support me financially. It looked like I would have to turn it down. However, my new boss had an extra bedroom and she said if I helped with her dogs, I could live with her rent-free for the season. Because of her extreme kindness, I worked with the team for the rest of the season until I could go back to my college dorm.
Without that experience, I never would have fallen in love with the business side of baseball and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The next internship I accepted was in the Pioneer League with the team being about 2,000 miles from my home in Texas. The internship paid $550 a month. I was panicking because apartments are expensive so I went to the place I dreaded to look for places to live: Craigslist. You hear horror stories about it but I was lucky. I did a ton of research and ended up renting a room in a garage apartment with three roommates I’ve never met for $250 a month. I got along with my roommates but once again, it was tough to survive. There was a lot of TV dinners and sandwiches over the course of the next few months from the money I had saved working four part-time jobs in the offseason.
I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to follow my career path in baseball including my brother’s wedding. I had saved enough money to barely support myself over the course of the season and didn’t have enough money left over to fly home for the wedding. Before I left for my internship, I sat down and had a heart-to-heart with him and my sister-in-law explaining I wouldn’t be able to make it. I was expecting to basically be disowned but they were understanding and gave me their blessing. It was disappointing especially seeing the economic difference from the other interns who flew to Seattle to visit their family during the season and went on an Alaskan cruise during the All-Star break. I worked every extra opportunity I could to try and save money to make it back home at the end of the season.
The following year, I accepted another internship which paid $750 a month and worked hard over the course of the season to be promoted and earned $950 a month plus commission. It was nice to have breathing room with this internship but there was still a disconnect with other interns. Some were local but one out-of-state intern ate out almost every meal and someone back home paid their bill, no questions asked.
So while I agree with Eppler that we know how to cheaply, we shouldn’t have to. If I had relied on intern pay alone, there’s no way I could have accepted ANY of those internships and I wouldn’t have been able to experience the wonderful world of baseball. I work three to four part-time jobs each offseason and by the time I travel to wherever the team is, get an apartment, and factor in food and gas, it’s barely enough to survive. In a way, interns are kind of like the baseball players who are fighting for minimum wage. And whenever a parent club makes billions and billions of dollars, can’t they share a small piece of that pie with the people who make that money for them?