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April 2019

Blue Jays in MiLB: A Q&A with Buffalo Bisons Andy Burns

By Tammy Rainey 

Probably not a lot of MLB fans, particularly outside the Blue Jays’ fanbase, are familiar with the name Andy Burns. That’s not really surprising. Burns, a shortstop on draft day, was drafted by Toronto in the 11th round of 2011. Taking a similar career path to current prospect Kevin Smith, Burns was in AA within the second full season after he was drafted, but with less attendant fanfare. While he played mostly 3B as a pro he proved his ability to play all over the field along with solid offensive skills. He got a couple of cups of coffee with the Jays in 2016 which turned out to be just the beginning of his baseball adventures.


Over the winter before the 2017 season Burns signed with the most popular team in the Korean League, the Lotte Giants. After two productive seasons in the KBO he’s now back with the Blue Jays having signed before the season as a minor league free agent. Now 28, and the second most senior hitter on the Buffalo Bisons squad, Burns has a rare perspective on the ongoing discussion of minor league pay rates, the Blue Jays leadership on increasing that pay (as well as other investments in the success of farm system players) along with the experience of going from minor league prospect to KBO star. Recently I ask him to discuss with me the insights he’s gained on his journey as a professional ballplayer here and abroad.



TR: Thanks for this, Andy. I want to set the stage by bringing up the larger conversation going on around MiLB at the moment. There's a lot of talk over the last couple of years about the gross inadequacy of the pay for minor league players, particularly given the Blue Jays decision to raise salaries across the board. In a lot of these conversations some fans argue that players do alright because they get nice signing bonuses but that, as you know, is actually rare. You were drafted in the 11th round by Toronto, were you one of the few who got more than the most basic signing bonus?


AB: I was an 11th rounder but I was fortunate to receive an above slot bonus. it was a solid amount of money but as a young man I wanted to do my best to live off the money I was making and try not to dip into my signing bonus. I was never scraping by as a player but I was also very conscious of how much money was coming in and how much was going out.


So I assume you have, or witnessed, some creative survival stories from your five plus years (the first time around) in the Blue Jays system?


I don't know if I personally had full blown survival stories, but I know a lot of my teammates through the years had much harder times than I did. I remember my first year in Lansing I decided I would spend the extra 150 dollars a month to have my own bedroom in a three bedroom, one bath apartment. We had up to five guys in that apartment at one point and while $150 a month doesn't sound like much, when your making $1200 before taxes $150 is a large chunk of that salary. You hear the stories of peanut butter sandwiches for dinner and such and those are real, I was just fortunate enough to not have to grind like that.


What did you do to supplement your baseball income during the off season?


in the off seasons I would always do some lessons to supplement income, but the real star was my wife. While we were struggling through the minor leagues she would always pick up an odd job in the season or offseason to help bring in money to pay for rent or food. She put her career on hold to allow me to follow my dreams, and be with me in the process and she always did what she could to help bring in money.


On the field you experienced the oft-discussed difficulty of making the transition to AA. Still, even though the on-base rate dropped, a player who could play all over the field with doubles power and usable speed on the basepaths who made it to AA by 23 was far from a disappointment. That earned you your first invitation to big league camp in 2014. What was that like?


As a kid you always dream of being a major league player and the first time you go to big league camp, not only do you have that moment where you realize you are getting close to your dreams but also there’s a little bit of that star struck moment. (Also) I feel like that first big league camp for a lot of players is a lot of figuring out how to do things the big league way and figuring out how to interact with major league players.


In 2016 you made your big league debut, but you only got as many as 2 plate appearance in the same game one time. I know that the excitement of being in the big leagues kind of trumps everything, but looking back did you feel some frustration that you didn't get more of a chance to prove you belonged?


To make my major league debut in 2016 and look around the clubhouse and see Donaldson, Bats, Tulo, Eddy, Pillar, Martin, Smoak and so on, and be a part of a team that went to the ALCS I am honored to have been there. That’s a tough lineup to crack so even to be apart of a big league roster like that I feel fortunate. Would it have been nice to get my feet wet a little more in the big leagues? Sure but to be a part of a team with that lineup I was fortunate to be there and the things I learned in my time there are priceless.


So jumping forward to the next off season, the official transaction says that the Bisons released you in the first days of 2017. I assume you ask for that release so you could sign with the Lotte Giants in Korea?


I was DFA'D in December and I had interest (from the Giants) to go over there a week later. It was one of the toughest decisions I had to make in my career but I had a lot of discussions with Toronto’s front office and the team in Korea was able to buy out my contract and I was released so I could sign in Korea.


What was that process like? Do players in your position tell their agents to explore a deal in Asia, or do those teams approach targeted players in the U.S. first?


I think a lot of players have interest to go overseas and make money so it’s more Korea and Japan that initiate conversation. As a position player there are only 10 of those jobs in the world, to be a position player in Korea, so the teams more so pick through their list to find their guy.


That status, knowing you were chosen for such a select group, must have been a tremendous confidence boost before you even took the field there?


I think it’s something you don’t realize until you’re over there to be honest. Once the season starts you look around the league and there are only 10 of you. Heading over there is so much unknown that you really have to take everything day by day and sometimes hour by hour but after awhile you get adjusted and things become normal.


The difference in the pittance that an average player makes in the minors over here and what the Giants ended up paying you must have been pretty breathtaking?


I think players become better players and learn a lot about themselves overseas but what drives them over there are the salaries. Few people know how much your able to make over there and once they hear they go “Ooooooo I get it now.” That though was probably one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in my life. I come off my first year in the big leagues and possibly have a chance the next year to get playing time there or provide for your wife and future family. Nobody dreams of growing up and going and playing in the KBO but at the end of the day there is a responsibility to make as much as you can in the short amount of time you have in the game and I'm very thankful the Blue Jays allowed me to pursue that and give me a chance to set my family up for financial stability in the future.


What was the Korean baseball experience like? On and off the field?


Playing in the KBO was one of the coolest environments that I've experienced. It’s the major leagues just in a different country. Korea is all about cheer songs and bat flips and until I show people what I'm talking about they don't really understand. I think an understated part of playing over there and why players have success when they come back is you go from wondering if you belong to (a situation where) you’re the guy. You’re the guy everyone looks at to get a big hit in front of 20k people when millions are watching on tv. You’re the person everyone recognizes when you go to Starbucks in the morning before the game and wants a picture. You're the person everyone blames when you lose a game. learning how to play with that in someone else's country makes you a much better player.


It sounds like you are a supporter of more expressive play in North America as well  (bat flips and such).


Honestly the bat flips are the finish to their swing. You’ll see guys bat flip singles it’s just how they’ve finished forever. But I feel like the cheer songs is something that really keeps the fans engaged and having fun. I think that environment brings more than just baseball fans to the park and they enjoy their experience.


So after two very productive seasons there, what motivated you to return?


As I said earlier there are only 10 of those jobs in the world so they are hard to keep. our team over there didn't win last year and when a team doesn't win over there the first place they look is foreign players and coaching staff. The team decided they wanted to go a different direction and I'm very thankful to be back here with Toronto. I truly believe everything happens for a reason and I know Toronto has a far better player than they did before I left.


Is it happenstance that you ended up back in the Blue Jays system or did either of you make a specific outreach to the other?


I couldn't be happier than to be back with Toronto. They have treated me so well thru my entire career. When I knew I was coming back to the US I reached out to my scout who drafted me Blake Crosby. I'm very comfortable here and have a lot of great relationships with people in the organization and we were able to get something done. I think they knew the player who they let go to Korea but I think they are continuing to find out the player who they have now.


Now you find yourself surrounded by high profile young prospects like Bichette, Biggio, Alford and - for a little while at least - Vladdy,  what's been your experience as the relative veteran teammate of such a heralded group? Do they look to you for clubhouse leadership? Was that part of what the Jays were buying when they brought you back?


The group of young payers we have coming up in our organization is extremely talented and it’s fun to go to work with them everyday. With that we have some older guys in our group headed by Sogard who's a great leader and a great player. I had a lot of older veterans help me when I was younger in Buffalo and teach me a lot about the game and I hope to be able to do the same for these guys. We have a great group of guys here in Buffalo and we are pushing each other today to get better.


Obviously, you're only 28. You probably wouldn't still be doing this if you didn't think you'll get another chance to prove yourself in the majors, but do you have ambitions in the game beyond whenever your playing days end?


I've really struggled with the question and I've only thrown around ideas. I truly believe the second I start thinking about a career after baseball that I've given up on my career in baseball. so have there been brief thoughts sure, but not serious thoughts. Do I think there is a chance that I'm a baseball lifer? Yes.


Finally, I want to circle back around to the pay issue. As a minor league free agent, the Blue Jays' choice to raise all the base rates presumably didn't directly affect your salary this year, but you are in a clubhouse and an organization that added very few such free agents last winter, so most of your teammates must be buzzing about it. Do they, or you, feel like this is (even though it is frankly still not enough pay for the work you guys put in) a real game changing choice for the organization in terms of perception of the team among minor leaguers, inside and outside the Toronto system?


The Blue Jays deciding to raise the minor league wages for its players is one of the coolest things I've seen an organization do. What they have invested in each and every player so they can get the most out of their ability both at the field and in their paychecks is astonishing. I think for a player to have a bedroom and money to eat during the season will make such a huge difference in player’s lives. I was very proud to be a part of this organization when I found out they were gonna do this.


Similarly to that, the current management team has had a great deal to say, and taken a lot of concrete steps, to move to the cutting edge of player development. Can you describe the difference you see in the way things are done now with, say, five years ago?


Well the fastest way to find out is walk into the lunch room now compared to four years ago. The minor league side is getting the quality of food they need to perform as much as the major league side which is amazing. I feel like the attention to detail in every players specific development is unmatched around baseball. The structures of workouts to every single players specific needs, and truly addressing the mental side of this game which is really hard to tap into. To look back at 2016 and see the early stages of where the organization wanted to go, to now close to fully executed, is really cool.


You can follow Tammy on Twitter @Tammy_Beth

Sheryl Ring: The Cubs, Laura Ricketts Fail to Show True Support for Queer Community + The Betsy Devos Connection

On Betsy DeVos, the Ricketts Family, and Why Representation Matters


The queer community, a longstanding pillar of the Chicagoland area and an integral part of the Second City’s history, has long been linked with the North Side’s venerable baseball team. Back in 1981, the Cubs’ AAA affiliate in Iowa was run by an openly gay part-owner and executive, Rich Eychaner. The team’s annual pride night, called “Out at Wrigley,” was started in 2001 and is Major League Baseball’s longest-running queer pride event. The Cubs have long had a float in the city’s annual pride parade. In short, there’s no way to separate the Cubs from the city’s queer history.

Or there wasn’t until relatively recently. In 2009, the Tribune Company sold the Cubs franchise and Wrigley Field to the ultra-conservative Ricketts Family, which for decades had been heavily involved in Republican politics. Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch, is the billionaire founder TD Ameritrade and bankroller of GOP presidential campaigns, including a million-dollar donation to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. He’s also the figure behind the family’s recent racist email scandal and a longtime holder of white nationalist views. Joe Ricketts have four children who hold equally odious views. Pete Ricketts is governor of Nebraska and an employer of white nationalist aides. Todd Ricketts is the national campaign chairman for Donald Trump. Tom Ricketts, who is chiefly in charge of the Cubs’ operations, recently partnered the team with Sinclair Broadcasting, a media conglomerate that requires that the television stations it owns run virulently homophobic and transphobic content, misogynistic drivel attacking victims of sexual assault, and pro-Trump pieces. As an example of the type of people Sinclair employs, its chief meteorologist is known for referring to trans people publicly as “things” and “its.”

Then there’s Laura Ricketts, Joe’s daughter.

Laura Ricketts, a former litigation attorney, co-owns the Cubs and is the first openly lesbian co-owner of a Major League Baseball team. On the surface, Laura seems refreshingly open to the queer community, despite her family: she’s a philanthropist for queer causes from Lambda Legal to Howard Brown. She fundraised for Barack Obama. At first, Laura’s influence seemed to keep the Cubs squarely in the center of the queer community; in 2011, for example, at her urging, the Cubs became just the second MLB team to join the “It Gets Better” project. But as time went on, it became clear that Laura had less and less influence into how the team was being run. For example, in 2018, the Cubs acquired second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was known as much for his bat as for his repeated homophobic comments about the gay “lifestyle.” Laura defended the trade after discussions with her brothers. But the team’s acquisition of an openly homophobic player caused massive backlash among the city’s queer population and the team’s sizable LGBTQ fanbase.

In one move, the team had gone from the heart of the city’s queer community to well outside it, and Laura Ricketts had taken the side of her homophobic family.


But the reality is that Chicago’s queer community should never have had faith in Laura Ricketts to preserve the Cubs’ ties to the LGBTQ community at all – not necessarily because she wasn’t up to the task, but rather because she was always a flawed messenger. Remember, Laura comes from a remarkably conservative, homophobic family. For some – even most – queer people, having a relationship with an intolerant family isn’t even possible. Laura’s privilege was her family’s money, and in order to accept that money she turned away from the worst excesses of her family regardless of whom they supported. And lest you think that this is just about politics, it’s not. You see, we learned all we needed to know about Laura Ricketts when she participated in the purchase of the Cubs.

Why? Because the Ricketts family, as odious as it is, isn’t the most homophobic or racist family involved. That distinction instead belongs to their minority partner in the Cubs ownership group, the Devos family. Yes, as in Betsy DeVos, secretary of education.

The DeVos family was known for its questionable morals long before Betsy sat before Congress and admitted to intentionally rolling back protections for trans students because of the data showing increased suicide rates for trans children. Family patriarch Richard DeVos, who made his money with AmWay, a multi-level marketing scam that was probably illegal, and he and Betsy, his daughter in law, spent it on homophobic causes. In the 20 years before the DeVos family purchased a stake in the Cubs, they donated more than six million dollars to organizations supporting conversion therapywith Betsy leading the way. She bankrolled efforts which she said would “confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory,” and compared queer people to pigs.

In 2015, most of this was already publicly known. But the Ricketts family sold about 10% of the team to the DeVos family to finance the renovations of Wrigley Field anyway, and gave them an advisory role with the team. Laura, it should be noted, said nothing publicly, and did nothing publicly, to oppose the sale. There are no reports that she did anything to oppose the sale privately either.

And if you still don’t believe me, remember this. Laura Ricketts is a queer woman who sits on the Board of the Chicago Cubs. And yet she said not a word when the Cubs traded for domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman. She again said nothing when the team tendered a contract to domestic abuser Addison Russell. And yet, she has no problem playing Kingmaker in Chicago politics. If she won’t stand up against domestic violence and institutionalized misogyny by her team despite being a woman, why are we expecting her to speak up on behalf of queer people because she’s queer? In fact, she’s doing the opposite: using her position to shield her bigoted family from criticism over decisions like the Murphy trade.


So for those people torn about whether the Cubs are still a queer-friendly organization, I would argue you have your answer already.

Laura Ricketts, whether intentionally or otherwise, has allowed herself to be tokenized as the friendly, female, queer face of an ownership group that is ardently and effectively campaigning for the elimination of queer people and the subjugation of women. As much as Laura Ricketts is a lesbian, she’s also rich and white – two privileges which many people in our community don’t have. And she’s using those privileges to the detriment of women and queer people alike.


Lifer 10: How Do You "Gameday?"

Lifer Logo


Welcome back, Baseball Lifers, to the TENTH Edition of Lifer! 

How do you celebrate the new season? Do you load your shopping carts with new baseball themed tees for the ballpark? Do you start researching to find fun theme nights at ballparks you've never visited? This edition has a little bit of everything, including a brand-new segment we're excited to introduce. 

One of my favorite parts about being a baseball girl is the huge selection of creative baseball tees that only the real baseball fans understand. Baseball puns, baseball math, even hip lingo with a baseball spin make for fun additions to your wardrobe.  I’ll show you a few of the tees I’m eyeing this season.

Theme Nights always make for a fun time at the ballpark, and Minor League clubs have some of the best ones. But what happens when a MiLB Team celebrates an iconic film? The Salem Red Sox are having a theme night that's sure to be fetch. 

As mentioned, we've added a new segment to the column. Hit 'Em is dedicated to the intersection of baseball and music, and it will feature a new baseball related song each issue. We'll take a look at some classics and some new favorites that celebrate the game we love! [Editor's Note: The new segment at the end of this edition is a somber tribute, but a celebration of life. In the future, we will feature a variety of content. We started by honoring a lost life, and our hearts go out to those who are mourning.~ Jessica Quiroli]

Enjoy your baseball season, however you do it.

~RoseAnn Sapia




New Baseball Tees, Please

By: RoseAnn Sapia





Whatever your “resting baseball face” is, it’s one of the things that unites us all. There’s something about baseball that makes us tick, and, when things are going all wrong, turns us off, gets us furious. Because it's our passion. That’s why this tee caught my eye. Clever? Extremely. Trendy? For sure. But if this T-shirt doesn’t characterize every Baseball Lifer, I don’t know what will.

The “Resting Baseball Face” T-shirt by The Gameday Chic is available in sizes S-2XL, and can be found to order on their website. Click here for more information.





I know I can’t be the only one this shirt resonates with. Some people can’t function properly without having coffee (“but first, coffee”), and others put their lives on hold for baseball. Hence this “but first, baseball” tee by For The Field Apparel.

Baseball Season doesn’t just mean going to the ballpark to enjoy a game every now and then, it means our whole schedule changes to accommodate the season. Have a family barbeque on Memorial Day? Have to make sure the game is on the radio. A night out with friends? We’re making sure the game’s on the big screen. Heck, sometimes we don’t even feel like going out or change our plans to accommodate the baseball schedule.

This “but first, baseball” T-shirt by For The Field Apparel is available in sizes S-XL, and can be found to order on their website. Click here for more information.  




On Wednesdays We Go To Baseball Games

By: RoseAnn Sapia





That's right! This American Classic is turning 15 this year, and the Salem Red Sox are ready to celebrate. If you're a Mean Girls fan, you might want to make your way to Haley Toyota Field on April 17th to ensure you properly observe. 

However, there are some rules you'll need to abide by to guarantee you'll fit in. April 17th is a Wednesday, and "on Wednesdays we wear pink". It might be a Red Sox game, but you won't want to be caught in anything other than pink for this contest. Since it won't be Friday, you won't necessarily want to dress casual either since "we only wear jeans or track pants on Fridays". Oh yea, if you plan on wearing a ponytail, make sure you don't wear your hair like that the rest of the week. 

Mean Girls Night is the best time for all Mean Girls loving Baseball Lifers to take in a Salem Red Sox game. Never been to a Sox game before? April 17th would be a great time to attend. Salem fans will surely let you sit with them. 


Hit 'Em: A Celebration of Baseball Songs

By RoseAnn Sapia and Jessica Quiroli

Nipsey Hussle's"Bases Loaded"

NipseyPhoto courtesy of BBC


"Bases Loaded" is about survival, and Nipsey Hussle knew about that.

In his 2018 song, from the baseball-tinged titled album "Victory Lap," he is confident, while remaining cautious ("But I gotta make it to first, first"), as he weaves in baseball references, metaphorically examining his rise from intensely difficult times through the prism of baseball. 

Listen to my ambition 'cause I'm on one

Swingin' for the fences for the home run

Even further beyond the universe

But I gotta make it to first, first

It feels like every second is being stolen

I risk it for every ticket, we sold them

You got the ball, Imma take it home

But I'm lyin,' I'm gonna make it home

The sequence is masterful, breathtaking as the momentum builds; He's never relaxing that he has the game won. He's taking "risk(s)" and "swingin' for the fences," determined that he'll "make it home." But there's no guarantee, and he's going anyway. The larger theme of the entire song deals with overcoming racial injustice in schools, in society, the prison system, as well as the pain of trying to survive being born into gang violence, . He wanted better for future generations,and he wanted to be part of the solution, to give hope and a tangible chance to many who are often forgotten or misunderstood. 

'Bases Loaded' is poetry. Life lessons wrapped up in every moment of a hitter's purpose. It's grit and beauty, much like the game we love. Nipsey Hussle was talking about the journey of his life; despite the unbearable tragic ending, when he was murdered on March 31st, he leaves us with a message fueled with hope, he will never be forgotten. He'll be remembered for his musical contributions, as well as his incredible contribution to the world, and to so many who took comfort in his message and outreach.


RoseAnn's Take:


Boy south Slauson Ave know my demonstration

Born and raised y'all affiliated

This is really greatness

Riding around like I really made it

Loaded bases I'm gon' Willy Mason


There's a lot here to make you think about baseball. The imagery is vivid. 

But the word “affiliated” somehow jumps out.

Maybe that particular reference wasn't as Hussle intended, but affiliated...that's MiLB. Where you start, where you grow. The lyric choice paints a picture of a homegrown talent coming up through the system, and finally “made it” to the “greatness”.

Lyrical Breakdown:

“Born and raised y’all affiliated.”  This line conjures an image of a player who was drafted by the team he's now playing with in the big leagues. They invested in him, and he made his way through all their affiliates in the minors. He's not floating out there without a home or direction. He's not unaffiliated. There's power in that statement. 

“This is really greatness. Riding around like I really made it.” Now, this player who grinded his way through the Minors has finally made it to the Majors. Maybe that player sees the fans around town. They know him. They admire and appreciate him. He shows how much he cares about them. As it was with Hussle, and all of the people moved, inspired and uplifted by the entrepreneur, rapper and activist.



Postcards From the Minor Leagues: Todd Van Steensel

This is the second installment of this series featuring pitcher Todd Van Steensel's life in the minor leagues. 

Hey Todd, what’s spring training like?


5:20am - “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy”. 

Is the sound of my Queen inspired alarm tone going off to wake me up for a normal day of Spring Training here in Arizona. I quickly jump in the shower and try and get out of the house by 5:40am. I opted not to stay in the team hotel during camp, instead living with a friend of mine and her husband in Scottsdale. So I get to enjoy a nice 35 minute drive to the field each morning! 

6:15am - “Good morning”

Is what I say to the attendant at the gate each morning as I walk into the facility. I casually make my way to the information board to see the schedule for the day and check if I’m pitching. On this particular day, I am pitching in an intersquad game at 1:00pm on Field Three at our complex. Now that I know what’s going on, I go get changed and head to the cafeteria to get some breakfast! If you don’t have to get treatment or workout, or have early work you get a lot of down time before stretch. So I usually just go back to my locker and relax until stretch time.

9:00am - “Behind the cones!”

Is what our strength and conditioning coach yells out just before we begin our stretch. A normal day on the field will consist of stretching, throwing, some sort of team defence. Could be working on your bunt plays, some PFP’s or 1st and 3rd plays. Once we get through all that, the pitchers go condition while the hitters get ready to take batting practise. The type of running you do changes from day to day, depending on when you pitch. Since I was throwing on this day, my conditioning was only 10 sprints to 30yds. Some would call this the easy day! 


11:00am - “Lets go eat”

Is what I say to myself once we get back in the clubhouse after spending the morning out on the field. The food here has been really good which is a huge improvement on what we used to eat in my first few years of pro baseball. Used to get half a subway sandwich, so it’s good to see that the food has gotten exponentially better! After lunch, you have time to do whatever you want before the game. 


1:00pm - “Play ball!”

Is the sound of the umpire getting the game underway on the back fields at the Peoria Sports Complex. Spring training baseball is unique in a way that the games “don’t count” and it’s more about players getting their work in. So, it’s not unusual to see an inning get “rolled” if a pitcher is struggling and can’t record three outs. Unfortunately for me, that has happened twice this spring training! You try not to look into it too much, because as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to focus more on the process than the results in the early stages of spring training and that you’re just figuring things out. A few years ago I would lose sleep over an inning getting rolled but nowadays I understand that everything will come together soon and I just need to get out on the mound more often. Also, one unique thing about spring training is that we know when we will pitch. So I threw the 7th inning in this game and it went quite well! Like I said, focus more on the process, and the process is coming along just fine and the results will follow. 


4:00pm - “Head to the weight room”

Is what the S&C coach tells you to do after we pitch, and we have to go workout. Now, I know anyone that knows me will laugh at the idea of me working out. I’ve never been good in the weight room, and have never really enjoyed it. But, it’s part of being an athlete so while I’m doing it, even though I’m not the strongest or the biggest guy, I’ll put in my best effort. I sometimes feel like a nuisance because I don’t know how to do certain lifts, but the S&C coaches here have been very patient with me and extremely helpful. So they definitely make it easier for me to enjoy working out when it’s not one of my most enjoyable activities! Once you’re done working out, you hit the showers, get dressed, check the schedule for tomorrow’s report time and get ready to leave.


5:00pm - “See ya, mate”

Is what I say to the gate attendant as I get to head back to my apartment for the day. A spring training day is quite a grind that’s for sure. But you know what you sign up for, and it’s all part of it.

As Spring Training was coming to a close, Van Steensel received some news. This is a continuation of his entry after that.-Editorial Note

“Thanks for your efforts”

I knew Monday was the day that they release players in camp, because Monday is the day they give us our $25 a day meal money for the week ahead. If they release you then they don’t have to give it to you. So I was prepared for it being a tough day at the ballpark for a few guys. Little did I know I was going to be one of those guys. 

I turned up to the ballpark around 6:00am, and just went about my business. Went to my locker and got changed and went to grab some breakfast. Once I was done I just went back to my locker to relax for a little while and was watching the news from back home in Australia on my iPad. 

One of the coaches then walked up to me at my locker and said “Hey, can we see you for a second in the office?”. Now I’ve been around long enough to know what that means, especially in Spring Training! So I followed him into the office where a few of the minor league coordinators were in. I took a seat while they all looked at me, then I was told “We’re going to release you this morning, we just don’t have a spot for you” and my response was “Okay”. They spoke a little more, saying a whole bunch of things, I basically zoned out because at that point you really don’t want to listen to what they have to say. They asked if I had any questions and I basically said “Nope”, shook their hands and walked out. 

I had a few things to take care of before I left. Had to head to the training room to do an exit physical, as well as meet with the travelling secretary to organise my travel. I did get a laugh out of it, because I was asked “Do you need a flight home? Or did you drive here?”. I wasn’t sure if that was a serious question! Because as you know, there isn’t a direct route from the US to Australia that I could drive home... yet! I told them to hold off on booking a flight home as I was planning on staying in the US a little longer to try and catch on with another team. 

Once I took care of all the formalities, I packed my bag, said goodbye to a few teammates that I got close to in the last few weeks and made my way out of there. I got there so early that I had my bag packed and was leaving while a few guys were still getting to the field that morning. So I actually may have been the first one there, and the first to leave! 

I began my drive home, and in the meantime my agent had been calling affiliated teams for me. I’m realistic, I understand how baseball works and know it is an extremely tough time to try and catch on with an affiliated club as they try to set their rosters for the season. But nonetheless he still was on the phone for me. While all this was happening, a few independent league teams were sending me messages asking if I’d be interested in playing with them. 

I got back to my apartment, took a moment to just sit down and relax before I returned some messages I received. Last year when the Twins released me, the St. Paul Saints who play in the American Association were aggressive in trying to sign me, but it just wasn’t a good fit at the time as there were only two weeks left of the season, so I opted against it. But still held onto their details. This time when St Paul called, it seemed like the perfect fit. Everyone I’ve spoken to about playing in St Paul said it’s one of the best places to play in “Indy Ball”, so after a few days I agreed to sign with them to continue my baseball journey in the US. 

Now, the hard part. I had to find a way to keep my arm in shape over the next month before I reported to spring training with the Saints on May 1st. Being in a city where I don’t know anyone this was going to be a problem. Luckily, a guy I played with the Padres wanted to help me out, and even after he spent all day at the field he said he would come play catch with me before he left for his affiliate. Once he left, it became a lot tougher! I played catch with my roommate here a couple of times, who hasn’t played competitive baseball since high school so I then went to the land of social media to send out a call to see if anyone could play catch with me. I had no luck early on, even contacted the local high schools and colleges asking if I could participate in practice but was told that it “was not permissible”. Eventually one guy got back to me, and we’ve been able to play catch and workout together for the last few days. One thing I’ve noticed about baseball players, is that they understand the struggle, and understand what it takes, so they’re always willing to help you out whenever you need it.

So as of now, I’m currently overstaying my visit with some friends in Scottsdale, playing catch with a guy I met on Facebook at a soccer field everyday, trying not to spend as little money as I can, and enjoying life as much as I can. 

I’m sure people are reading this going, you’ve been released four times? Why are doing this? Get the hint, no one wants you. But, I have reasons for why I do this. I have family and friends who have supported me for the last eleven years since I signed who have believed in me and never given up on me when I wanted to. And one day, I might have children who have this crazy dream, and I wouldn’t be able to look them in the eye and tell them “follow your dreams” if I didn’t do it myself. We all have our “why”, and I know what mine are.


Stay tuned for the next installment of this four-part series next month. 

Follow Todd on Twitter @toddvs35


Sheryl Ring's Baseball Talk: Lance Berkman's Transphobic Beliefs Forgotten with "Good Guy" Label


One of my favorite parts of the offseason is baseball Hall of Fame voting. There are the player profiles, like these from Jay Jaffe, that remind you of the great players of just a few years ago. There are the hot takes – so many hot takes – about who should be in and who shouldn’t. And if you’re at all like me, there’s the endless refreshing of Ryan Thibodeaux’s Hall of Fame ballot tracker, watching childhood favorites like Mike Mussina and Edgar Martinez grow closer and closer to induction.

But as I watched this past year’s Hall of Fame debate, I was struck by something. Each cycle, we discuss the meaning of the character and integrity clause on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

We talk about it, most often, in the context of performance enhancing drugs, when we debate the eligibility of players like Barry Bonds. For the first time this cycle, we started talking about the need to consider character and integrity to the context of the #MeToo movement, with players like Roger Clemens, who groomed Mindy McCready for a sexual relationship beginning when she was fifteen years old, and Andruw Jones, who threatened to choke his wife to death – and actually tried. We talked about the character and integrity clause when it comes to players like Curt Schilling, who has compared Muslims to Nazis and called for the lynching of journalists. But however you fall on the question of how to treat this sort of behavior in the context of the character and integrity clause, we at least talked about it. We started a conversation.

Not so with Lance Berkman.

Lance Berkman is one of the sport’s good guys. Or, at least, he’s supposed to be. Bleacher Report talked about how scandal-free he was when writing up his candidacy. Bloggers talked about how underrated he was as a player.

No one talked about the character and integrity clause when it came to Berkman. No one even mentioned it. I couldn’t find a single article from a major publication about whether Berkman satisfies the character and integrity clause.

Jay Jaffe, my colleague at Fangraphs who did his usual admirable job of presenting other candidates’ more egregious behavior, didn’t mention it. And why would they? Berkman’s one of the good guys, right?

Good guys don’t go on television to call trans women “troubled men.”

Yes, that is Lance Berkman in a 2015 major market political campaign ad opposing the rights of trans women to use women’s bathrooms. That’s him introducing himself by invoking his baseball bona fides. And yes, that is former Hall of Fame candidate Lance Berkman saying that trans women are nothing more than “troubled men.” You see, Houston, Texas had a proposed ordinance that would protect trans women from discrimination, particularly in bathrooms. And Berkman became heavily involved in opposing it. Not only that, though: Berkman didn’t just oppose the ordinance, he actively trumpeted the invalidity of trans people, particularly trans women.

"My wife and I have four daughters. Proposition 1 would allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women’s bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms," said Lance Berkman.

And because that wasn’t enough, Berkman made a second video explaining his reasoning for doing the ad. This video:

And in that second video, “good guy” Lance Berkman, he who was so above reproach that the character and integrity clause was considered a mere formality in his Hall of Fame case, said this:

Who knows what the intent of that person might be. They truly might think they're a woman, which is a little strange to me. But they could be a child predator. They could be somebody that's in there who likes to look at women and just claims to be a woman. ... If we're going to go down to the zoo, I just want to be able to live life without having to have an extra thing to worry about when it comes to protecting my family. ... It's crazy. It makes me want to say... 'wake up, America!' And that's what I want to scream at people because, what are we doing here? We have the potential for men going into a woman's bathroom. The very few people that this could be slanted as discriminating against, is it worth putting the majority of our population at risk... to appease a very small minority of the population? I don't think so. I think it's crazy, and it's unbelievable that we're even talking about this. ... We have to try to rise up against this threat, and the only way we can do that is go and vote 'No' against Proposition 1.

Amazingly, Berkman wasn’t done yet. Those videos were turned into radio ads that blanketed the Houston metro area. Unsurprisingly given Berkman’s stature, the proposed ordinance went down in defeat. Berkman went on KTRH 740 AM to talk about how he was the victim of “digital persecution,” and that “I felt that I had an obligation to stand for what is right.” And then came this:

"To me tolerance is the virtue that’s killing this country. We’re tolerant of everything. You know, everything is okay, and as long as you want to do it and as long as it feels good to you then it’s perfectly acceptable do it. Those are the kinds of things that lead you down a slippery slope, and you’ll get in trouble in a hurry," said Berkman

And still, after months of being the face of a political campaign that successfully demonized an entire already-oppressed community, Berkman still wasn’t done. He then gave an interview to Craig Calcaterra, doubling down yet again on his hatred of the trans community.

"It’s not an easy topic. You’re taking their word for it, saying that’s the way they’re born," Berkman explained. "The issue is, what to do about a 15 or 16-year-old boy who thinks he’s a girl and wants to shower with the girls? Maybe he is [transgender], maybe he’s confused. But I wouldn’t want him in the shower with my daughters. We shouldn’t have the rights of 2% of the population trump the rights of the other 98%. Is it a mental choice? I don’t know. But it’s a Pandora’s Box."

So in the span of four months, Lance Berkman said trans women were “troubled men,” accused the entire community of being predators, said tolerance was killing the United States, implied trans people are lying about their gender, called being trans a “mental choice,” and said that trans people aren’t entitled to legal protections because we’re so small a population.

This was just four years ago. And yet, despite how high-profile that campaign was, despite the fact that Berkman’s campaign ads are still up on Youtube . . . the entire affair was completely forgotten. The Cardinals even honored Berkman for his faith on “Christian Day” in 2017, despite protests from the queer community. Since then, in mainstream media and culture, Berkman’s rols as the face of a movement inciting hate and violence towards an entire marginalized community was completely ignored and forgotten.

But that matters. Or, at least, it should matter. In an era where we rightly talk about whether or not statutory rape and domestic violence should keep someone out of the Hall of Fame, trans rights are not less important. Nor is this issue mooted by the fact that Berkman didn’t get in anyway. Berkman didn’t get into the Hall of Fame because of a crowded ballot, not because of his comments on trans people. In fact, those comments were completely ignored at best, and celebrated at worst. If Berkman had been elected, no one would have batted an eye.

You can follow Sheryl on Twitter @Ring_Sheryl

Lexington Legends Emma Tiedemann And The Play by Play of A Broadcasting Life

By RoseAnn Sapia



It was a championship clinching game and Emma Tiedemann was in the booth.

It’s the thing dreams are made of, and Tiedemann got to experience it in her first season with the Lexington Legends.

“I was freaking out internally, but more calm on the broadcast”, says Tiedemann remembering that surreal moment when the Legends recorded the final out.  

The winning run was in scoring position at second base, and the infield convened for a meeting at the pitcher's mound. One more out to seal the second Championship in franchise history in the season which the team made history.

“It was an incredible series with drama; a back and forth with the BlueClaws.”

The final call: “...left side. Picked up by Diaz. Tags third base. LEGENDS HAVE DONE IT!" 


2019 SAL Championship Call



The 2018 season garnered a lot of attention for the Lexington Legends, the Single-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, with plenty of buzz before the season began. The team named Emma Tiedemann new Director of Broadcast and Media Relations in early March, making her only the second female play-by-play broadcaster in Minor League Baseball history, and the first in the South Atlantic League. This season, she’ll be one of six women in the booth in the minor leagues.

With a change in personnel, Tiedemann is entering 2019 with a renewed focus. “We have a lot of arms this year in Lex. As a broadcaster, I’ll be focusing more on pitches, grips, and arm slots”, says Tiedemann.

The Mizzou alum will have the opportunity to focus more on the technical side of the game this season. Since she’s alone in the booth, she won’t have someone to bounce off of like a former pitcher who would have a lot of knowledge from pitching experience. Because of that, Tiedemann is ready to expand as a broadcaster. 

Although just her second year in Lexington, Tiedemann has been calling games since high school. Her journey started when her grandfather, Bill Mercer, invited her to assist him on the call of a women’s basketball game for the University of Texas at Dallas. She was just 15 years old.

“I knew I wanted to do play-by-play since 2010, but thought I’d want a network or college or university”, recounts Tiedemann who’s niche really surfaced when she took a broadcasting gig with the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska Baseball League, a summer league for college players.

Tiedemann served as play-by-play and color analyst for the Miners in 2014. “Once I was in Alaska and got to work day-in and day-out at the ballpark, I fell in love with it”, she says.

Her broadcasting career led her to several teams in several leagues, allowing her to gain experience at varying levels. She spent two years as the Broadcast and Communications Manager for the Medford Rogues of the Summer Collegiate League, and one as the number-two broadcaster with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association, all leading up to her current role with the Lexington Legends, the Class-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. 

There’s something special about each of these leagues, and Tiedemann got an up-close look at what makes each unique. The game may stay the same, but the men who play it are quite different.

“I spent my first three years in Summer Collegiate League which was college guys trying to make that transition from aluminum to wooden bats”, Tiedemann shares. “There’s coaches from different backgrounds with different attitudes, and all the players have that sparkle in their eye hoping for that standout season”, she continues, mentioning that the guys playing in the Collegiate League are the ones hoping to draw interest from MLB scouts.

Then there's the Independent League, the fringey sibling of the minor leagues, who's gaining importance to MLB. “A lot of guys finishing their careers that want to play the game they love, and some that hope to get a call to the Bigs”, Tiedemann says. The men playing Independent League baseball are filled with passion for the game, and that had a huge impact on Tiedemann’s perspective.

According to Tiedemann, the Saints had one of the best office cultures. “Their slogan was ‘Fun is Good’ and I’ve carried that with me”, she shares, “That’s how I approach my work”. She took that attitude with her when she joined the Legends last season.

Now entering her second year in Minor League Baseball, Tiedemann has enjoyed the opportunity to get creative and have fun in the booth, noting that if she “botches” a play, she’s able to laugh it off and make a joke while on the call. “I apologize and tell them what happened, but I’m more relaxed and okay with things going wrong”, she says.

One of the unique parts about working with a Minor League club is that Major League teams are always watching. “The Royals and the visiting clubs are all paying attention to you”, Tiedemann remarks, adding that it’s important to remain professional as a broadcaster while having fun.

Although there are differences between the Collegiate, Independent, and Minor Leagues, there is one thing that has remained a constant during Tiedemann’s tenure with each. “I’ve actually called a Championship Series in my first year with every team”, she shares. However, she was on the losing end of each series until last season when the Legends won it all.

“I had former bosses reaching out, they were jealous”, Tiedemann says, then laughs, “Karma’s gonna get me and this’ll be my only Championship”.



A lot of work goes into being the Director of Broadcast and Media Relations for the Lexington Legends. The job doesn’t end with being the voice of the team.

Along with calling every home game, Tiedemann is in charge of writing press releases, game notes, and stat packs. She’s responsible for tracking and documenting roster moves, and oversees the happenings in the Press Box and AV Room. The team of 10-15 people she manages includes everyone from the PA Announcer to those working the cameras, and the in-stadium DJ.

“I absolutely love it, it’s a dream job”, gushed Tiedemann. “It’s long hours, but I can’t wait to go back every day.”

Since there’s always so much to do in her role, her job doesn’t end when she leaves the ballpark. To put it into perspective, Tiedemann shares that her play-by-play prep is done after hours.

“I take each player from every team and do a Google search looking for stats and streaks, and then I go to Google News”, says Tiedemann, “I do five to seven hours of research for every team”. She then puts all the information she collects into a binder she created that has a page dedicated to every player. She goes back to the binder each time a player does something notable to ensure her notes are up to date.

This is all done in an effort to “paint pictures more than numbers”. Tiedemann considers her style of broadcast to be more human than others, and she clearly puts a lot of work into making sure she accomplishes just that.




There are bus rides, and they are long.

“Travel took a lot of getting used to”, Tiedemann admits, when thinking of the way she’s managed traveling throughout her career. In the leagues she’s worked, bus trips at random times of the day and night become part of the lifestyle. However, the ten-year broadcasting vet does have a system to help navigate traveling.

When traveling through the night, Tiedemann makes sure to be actively preparing during the day. When traveling during the day, she turns to Netflix. “I have watched more True Crime Docs than anything," she says humorously. 

But every long trip does come to an end, which gives her something to look forward to. She explains that you're either at a new destination or finally back home, but says that one just gets used to that hectic pace.

“I didn’t really have an off day”, Tiedemann shares about her schedule this past season. In that rare occasion when she does have a day to herself, however, she likes to spend it relaxing.

“I try to catch up on sleep, but that internal clock goes off”, she says, adding that more than anything, she stays away from social media and her phone, and gets outside whenever she has free time. “Grab a cool beverage and find a nice pool and sit outside” is how she describes her ideal day off.

When the season ends, her schedule quickly goes from about six months of nonstop baseball to no baseball at all. That’s when she becomes a lot like the players she's watching all season. Winter jobs are necessary. 

“I have a lot of random jobs during the off-season."

She spent a lot of this past off-season driving around Lexington, Kentucky as an Amazon Delivery Driver and Lyft Driver. Both jobs helped her pay rent, and allowed her to meet the people of Lexington. Driving jobs functioned as a way for her to further immerse herself into the community, creating a deeper connection with her neighbors outside of the ballpark.

Her non-baseball work didn’t end there. In October, she was named the play-by-play voice of Morehead State University’s women’s basketball team, becoming the first woman to hold the position in university history.  

This gig allowed Tiedemann to get back to her roots of calling basketball games, just as she had done back in high school. She got to travel with the team, in what she described as a dream set-up.

“It was the best off-season I could’ve asked for.”



Rain is falling at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. The tarp has to come onto the field. In the booth, Emma Tiedemann sends her listeners to break, then sprints down to the field to help with the tarp pull. A daunting task that she's game for.

Once the tarp is on the field, she heads back up to the Press Box. She recalls all the rain delays from last season that she spent watching the AV team try to keep the fans entertained. She remembers one particular instance when the On-Field Host brought all the kids out for a rain delay dance party.

Rain delays are when she can really take it all in. She might not be on the field dancing, but she's living out a life she loves. And, in the process, has established a place in the baseball history books. 


Follow Emma on Twitter @emmatieds.


RoseAnn Sapia is a Features Writer and the Co-Editor of Lifer for All Heels on Deck. She's an East Coast girl. Follow RoseAnn on Twitter to discuss all things baseball (basketball, too) @_RoseAnnSapia.