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A former Minor League Baseball player hopes the union changes will mean improvements

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The majority of professional baseball players never actually make it to the major leagues. They dream big, but most live on small paychecks and bounce around the minor leagues until they get called up or bow out after a hard life with few perks.

PETER GEHLE: You go from peanut butter and jelly in between batting practice and the game, and the common phrase was, don't like it? Play better.

MARTIN: That's Peter Gehle. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2010 but never made it to the big leagues. He pitched for half a dozen teams in the minors, striking out batters in South Korea and Australia. And after almost a decade playing in the minors, Gailey hung up his cleats for the last time in 2019 after his final season pitching for the Winnipeg Goldeyes in Canada.

GEHLE: You know, accept that it's a grind. It's long days, and obviously a finite number of players make the Major League Baseball. But you should be able to give it, you know, everything you have and not have to worry about not be able to make ends meet moneywise.

MARTIN: The Major League Baseball Players Association, the union representing professional baseball players in the Major Leagues, announced this week that they will now allow minor league players into the union. Previously, minor leaguers had no collective voice. Gehle hopes that means players still in the game will now earn more than he did.

GEHLE: So my signing bonus was $1,000 before tax, just about 600 or so after. So I was able to, you know, get myself some new cleats and a new glove, that kind of thing.

MARTIN: Along with purchasing their own gear, many players drafted to teams in small cities were left to their own devices to find a place to live. The agreement between Major League Baseball and the hundreds of teams in the development system includes the provision that all players on all teams receive housing.

GEHLE: Yeah, I think housing is a really important part. It's just one less thing off, you know, the minor league guys' plate they have to deal with. From the time regular spring training camp breaks up until you either get, you know, called up to one of the other minor league teams that have already left or you report for short season, you are on your own for housing.

MARTIN: Gehle remembers that he and his teammates could find themselves traded, released or injured without any safety net. With the advantages of collective bargaining and the announcement of higher salaries and better standard accommodations, he's hopeful for the current crop of players.

GEHLE: I think for those players, it just gives them a little peace of mind knowing, I can do this for a little bit longer. That way, I'm not walking away with any regrets of, well, if I could have just stuck it out, if I was making more money. So now I think it'll just give them the opportunity to, OK, I can really invest in this and give it all I have and not have to worry about, OK, well, I can't pay these bills, so I'm just going to retire and then go get a real job.

MARTIN: That was Peter Gehle, a former minor league pitcher. Gehle now works in construction, but he can still be found pitching in an Arizona adult league when he's not at work on a building site. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.