A Baseball Story: Why All Heels on Deck is Ending

Since early 2018, a roster of incredible people have contributed outstanding baseball writing to the All Heels on Deck platform. Their work has been thoughtful, in-depth, at times fun, other times deeply serious and intimate. They've been paid, though not nearly enough, for presenting work that's uniquely they're own, and invaluable to the baseball community. There has also been illustrators and graphic designers who helped bring ideas to life. As a team, and as individuals, they deserved an audience. 

For the most part, they didn't get that well-deserved audience. 

The doors to All Heels on Deck will close next week. There are many reasons for that. But what my thoughts return to, the thought that makes my stomach knot, is that these amazing people didn't get read enough.

A few months ago, Sheryl Ring began writing her own column about the intersection of baseball and social issues. It was a dream project, very much in my personal wheelhouse, and certainly the kind of thing baseball readers want more of these days. In the aftermath of some of her writing for another publication, she was harassed so badly, she took a leave from writing and laid low. Her column, in it's early stages, would have to wait after just a few published pieces. That never quite developed. That was the beginning of the end in many ways. Not because of that, but at the same time she was facing a fallout, the sense that AHOD couldn't go on was creeping up on me. 

I announced the debut of a new baseball writing platform in December of 2017. The announcement was made after a short planning stage, but long after the idea has been in my mind. I'd been imagining creating a place that prioritized women, PoC and LGBTQ baseball writers for a long time. I also knew I wanted to pay them. I just didn't know how. So I worked out the details, and told some colleagues the idea for the name. Like Heels on The Field (my minor league baseball blog), it was fiercely feminist, independent, humorous and intended to challenge the sexist, patriarchal dominance of the sports industry. 

What no one in the business knew was that I'd had a baby. At the time I made the announcement, she was tiny and I was sleepless. During her multiple naps (hurray!) I worked on the website, the design, the plan for content, and contacted potential contributors. Every person I contacted was excited and wanted to be part of the debut, or at some point in the future. My own excitement was building. This was it. Motherhood and the most important thing I'd ever hope to contribute to the industry were happening at the same time. Ok, I was tired, nervous and completely new to both roles, but I got through that by focusing on what my heart told me, and digging in for strength I didn't know I had just as I had many times before. 

The response to the new, one of a kind site was met with a ton of support. I cherish the private messages I received from people I've respected for years. I'm especially grateful to the new connections I made with young women and members of the LGBTQ community who loved the platform, and many who wanted to know what they could do to contribute. 

But that positive response was a bit darkened, and quickly. A backlash, led by another woman in baseball media began almost immediately. I was riding high, but also ready to listen to helpful feedback. What could we create that was unique? How could we challenge the sexist garbage takes we'd read for years? What sorts of analysis, features and interviews were important to publish? What could I do to succeed at managing the business side, something I was ill-equipped to handle alone? I hoped for guidance, cameraderie and energetic debate. That is not what unfolded over the next couple of days. 

The attacking comments about the title that insisted I was creating something that was "dangerous" to women, and the petty mockery that was personal and cruel, and, honestly, typical of girls I went to school with who delighted on another girl's misery, weren't important enough to send me into hiding. I wasn't going to dismantle the project because of that kind of dialouge. I'd faced enough of that from men. The one that stayed with me the most was from Yankees fan and writer Amanda Rykoff. She didn't include my handle, but addressed my life and career, and what my set of beliefs are, without ever having a conversation with me.

Her tweet read: 

"Heels" is her brand- her blog, her Twitter hande, etc because she believes "heels"= feminine. It's always been problematic to me. I want to support this but I can't -- as conceptualized now."

In a few short sentences, she erased my years of work, based on a sexist idea that I'd mainly heard from men. Her perception of me was all that mattered, and, I realized, this was possibly true of other women in the industry. It wasn't the first time I'd been subjected to that kind of harmful erasure as a woman, both in the sports industry and in society, but it was so concise in delivery. So certain. I knew that no matter what I had done in my life and career, no matter how many women I'd helped in the industry, no matter how much sexual harrassment I'd faced in the clubhouse, the press box and from fans, despite many miles traveled and over a decade of nose to the the grind baseball writing,and writing about sexism in the industry, and, finally, creating a platform for undrepresented voices in baseball, I was not an acceptable woman and feminist.

Not only that, she was making an assumption, as men do, about the symbolism of "heels" as an indication of something about a woman. Never mind that the "brand" was one I'd built to give myself the confidence to do things I never imagined. I felt like a super hero or a character, someone that I'd hoped to be. A woman with no fear, a woman without a past of abuse, who could breeze past sexist bullshit. I can't tell you how far those "heels on the field" had been from the baseball world throughout my life. I'd overcome sexual abuse and assault, as well as relationship violence. I had pursued something no one believed in, and few encouraged. I was almost always alone in those minor league clubhouses and press boxes. In the major leagues, I felt like a child leaving middle school to transfer to the big scary high school. I felt small. The heels gave me a bit of magic power, like fairy dust sprinkled on my feminist brain, as I powered forward, dying to kick the shit out of the patriarachy. 

I was nothing, according to her. And what I was creating deserved no notice, no chance. I read lots of talk from a circle of women in baseball who echoed her attitude, and made clear that as a woman, that didn't mean I was above criticism. Gender criticism is important. I have said that many times. Feminism is an idea. And not everyone agrees on the idea or how to execute. So, no, that was not a problem for me. The questions were valid, and I tried to answer them as best I could without revealing everything I knew would be in the debut. I stayed level-headed for the most part. I seeked guidance from Christina Kahrl. I heeded her advice, trying to stay completely up and open. 

So when the debut arrived, I figured that once those women read the incredible first few stories that included a personal essay by a trans writer, and another personal essay by a fully veiled Muslim Cubs fan, they would then continue their thoughts. We would resume the discussion. Pehaps they'd ask some tough questions, and, hopefully, a lot of praise on the writers. Once they read the work, what did they think? But, as I learned, that was never their intention. They weren't there to have a discussion in good faith. They didn't want read the work of undrepresented voices in baseball more than they wanted to see me fail. As Rykoff pointed out, I was problematic. What I accomplished, and what all of those writers were doing to change the industry, didn't matter. What mattered was perception. What mattered was hating me for what kind of woman they believed I was. Like many men in my life, and in our lives, they just wanted to silence me. Sidenote, one of the women in the herd writes for a site that I love. It's called Bitch. I hate that word, and refrain from using it to describe women. But Bitch Media also explained why they chose that name on their site. I have pitched them and regularly read their work. They too were questioned about that name. If you don't have a problem with a site that uses a word that is historically derogatory towards women, you can't really have such a huge problem with the word "heels" in the title. It's not hard to connect those dots back to what I said earlier in this piece. It was personal and rooted in feelings about me as a woman in sports media.

AHOD went forward, and nothing stopped the train as we progressed down the tracks. New subscribers were coming in daily. The energy was there for a short time. As the months went on, I tried and I tried and I tried. I raised funds, I endlessly promoted the site, the writers, the importance of the idea, and the unique and meaningful fact that I was paying people per story.

I also moved back home to Philadelphia, continued caring for my baby and myself, battling a lot of dark moments, confusion, utter exhaustion and isolation, mixed with wanting to hold her, comfort her, watch her grow every moment. I was afraid to be too far from her. I was overwhelmed to not have a moment to breathe. I wasn't alone. But I was alone a lot. 

After awhile, the train kept stalling. As a new mom with minimal help, adusting to a new life, and working through PPD, while trying to build and balance a business, and be an editor, I just wasn't able to create the platform I hoped. I didn't get the funding. I didn't get the subscribers. I can't pay writers what they're worth. I can't manage all of it alone. I have tried to reconfigure this juggling act many times since AHOD's inception. I have to move forward, but hopefully not forever. I want to bring this back. Open these doors again. Maybe someone will partner with me in the future. Maybe someone has a new idea we can work on together, in order to give this platform a new lease. I hope so. 

When I look back at the body of work that people contributed, it looks more like we worked on a lengthy project, a kind of experiment, or maybe a book together, rather than a blog or website. We dreamed our dreams out loud. I connected with people who taught me a lot about how important these moments are. Non binary people who asked, "Do I need to identify as one or the other, or anything at all?" The answer was, of course, no. You are you. Please come in. Teach us, tell us a story, whether it's personal or statistical analysis or a mashup of all sorts of ideas. Throw paint at the wall. Write the wild thing you think no one wants to read. Analyze a trade or a team in a way that other sites might not allow or find interesting. Bring your pain, your joy, your absurd thoughts, your silliness, your creativity, bring all of you. AHOD was home if you wanted to be there.

I don't want to say I failed. I just wish I could have made this last. I have to do what I've always done in my career and throughout my life. Take a moment, reasses, breathe, and ask for guidance. See where the next idea is.

And, ok, I won't say I failed, but I am sorry. Women, PoC and LGBTQ baseball writers need to be heard, and the industry must seek to include them without apology, without qualifying by saying, "Hey, we just want the best person for the job." Nope. Not going to work. Sports editors must be deliberate in changing the industry. They must put the idea of equality into action. Not with specialized programs or quota filling. Make diversity hiring a priority. Period.

AHOD will be live for a bit longer, with final wrap-up coming. And Patreon subscribers wil continue to receive content for awhile. They're separate, and I'll be addressing them that way.

This idea is now yours. What can you do with it? Where can you take it? How can you make this successful? How will you have impact? What can you create that will shift the balance, inspire and connect? Please do it. Don't hesitate. 

I leave you with the words of a poet Goddess from country outer space:

"You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, so you might as well do what you want." Kacey Musgraves

Thank you readers, friends, colleagues, followers and subscribers. 

And fuck the patriarchy. 

Lifer 11: Summer Wrap-Up

Lifer Logo


Welcome back, Baseball Lifers, to the August Edition of Lifer by All Heels on Deck!

Who else is excited to read that line again? We are thrilled to share what we’ve been working on during our summer hiatus. Our Summer Wrap-Up has a little bit of everything. 

Last month, the world of sports celebrated #WomenInBaseballWeek. I’m sure you saw it all over Twitter, with everyone associated with baseball shouting out their favorite women who are dominating the world of baseball. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory hosted a week-long celebration of “the cultural significance of women in baseball”. We’ll give you a closer look at their unique lineup of events.

Women’s Baseball has been a hot topic in the baseball world lately. With Maddy Freking becoming the 19th girl to compete in the Little League Baseball World Series during this year’s tournament, we’re reminded of all the women who have come before her as pioneers in the sport. But, what if you want to physically show your support for women’s baseball? We have you covered with some apparel you won’t want to miss out on.

Minor League Baseball Teams are always thinking of innovative ideas to make fans’ ballpark experience as unique and memorable as possible. Everything from pop culture theme nights and discounted food items to creative giveaways are used each year to drive crowds to the ballpark. This season, the Hartford Yard Goats have decided to go beyond promotions to create an extra-special atmosphere. We’ll share some of the details that made headlines earlier this summer.

We've officially reached the Dog Days of Summer, which means our teams are headed into the home stretch of the season.  Wouldn't it be fitting to have your team represented right in your backyard as you get in those final summer BBQs? We’re sharing some items of décor that all you Baseball Lifers might want to add to your collection.

We’re back with the second installment of Hit ‘Em, our new segment dedicated to the intersection of baseball and music, where we feature a new baseball themed song each edition. This month, you'll be getting two songs! Jessica Quiroli and I will be showcasing some country songs that will definitely make you think baseball.



~RoseAnn Sapia




Louisville Slugging Women

By: RoseAnn Sapia




Last month, the world of baseball made it a point to acknowledge the women working in the sport we love. Many fans tweeted about the impact of women in their lives, while several teams celebrate by hosting a special theme night during the season. This year, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory made it a point to highlight the history of women in baseball in some of the most creative way.


Think you know the history of women in baseball? As part of the celebration, museum goers had the opportunity to compete in some trivia. Questions ranged from the AAGPBL and A League of Their Own, to general Women in Baseball facts. The person who answered the most questions correctly got to take home a personalized bat!


When you hear Jackie Mitchell, what comes to mind? This is the woman who infamously struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and the Louisville Slugger Museum brought these moments back to life. Twice during the week-long celebration, a Frazier History Museum teaching artist performed a live portrayal of this incredible story for fans of all ages to appreciate.




The Museum went even deeper into the history of women in baseball by highlighting the importance of Bloomer Girls Baseball, a league that was active between the 1890s and 1930s, which coincided with the suffrage movement.


Basically, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory hosted a week-long immersion into the history of Women in Baseball, and we absolutely love the idea.


To learn more about the celebration, click here.


For more information about Bloomer Girls Baseball, click here.




A League Of Our Own

By: RoseAnn Sapia


With Women in Baseball Week last month and the USA Women’s National Team competing this month, now’s the perfect time to flaunt your support for the trailblazing women who play the sport we all love. There’s no better way to do that than by rocking some women’s baseball merch!


Penny Marshall. That name holds a lot of status for many baseball fans. Her film, A League of Their Own, was the first to showcase the groundbreaking All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) and highlight just how significant a role these women played in history.


It’s fitting that the International Women’s Baseball Center (IWBC) kicked off their Penny Marshall Celebration in honor of her life and accomplishments just last week with apparel that honors the iconic director and her beloved film.



Choose from a vibrant tee commemorating the Penny Marshall Celebration and a tee that features the IWBC logo with the phrase, “Step up to the sport”. Top it off with a Rockford Peaches cap, and Baseball Lifers everywhere will know exactly where your heart lies.


The US Baseball Women’s National Team is currently riding a seven game winning streak, so now’s the perfect time to show them you’re cheering them on with Team USA gear!


There’s a wide selection of merch for Baseball Lifers of all ages including sweatshirts, caps, popsockets, and pins.





On the apparel side, Team USA gear covers everything from hoodies, fleeces, and pullovers to caps, tees, and shorts for men, women, and children. With sizes ranging from S-XXL, you’re sure to find the style and size of your preference.


The accessories are where you can get a bit more creative with how you rep Team USA’s Women’s National Team.




Popsockets are definitely the current trend, and now you can get a Team USA branded one! Nothing shows support like attaching a team logo to an item you have with you at all times.





A lot of the Team USA merch can be used on the baseball field. Branded canteens, batting gloves, bracelets, cooling towels, and wristbands are all items you see baseball players at every level sporting on the field. What better way to support these women than by representing them while you’re playing baseball?


For more information about the IWBC’s Penny Marshall Celebration, click here.


All USA Women’s National Team gear can be found at their official team shop, here.




“Buy Me A Hot Dog And Yard Goats Cap”

By: RoseAnn Sapia




When you think baseball, what’s the first food that comes to mind? For many, the first is peanuts.


Based on data collected as recently as 2018, about 1.8 million children in the United States are allergic to peanuts. Despite the efforts of the Commissioner to attract the youth of America to baseball, there’s a large population that isn’t able to attend games at the ballpark even if they wanted to because of their allergies.


One Minor League Team, the Hartford Yard Goats, has decided that it’s time to change that narrative.  


The Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies has officially gone peanut-free for the 2019 season, making them the first ballpark to go peanut-free for an entire season. Peanut and peanut-related items are no longer offered at concession stands at any home game. This is in an effort to make Dunkin’ Donuts Park more family friendly, since many children suffer from severe peanut allergies.


Because peanuts are part of the traditional baseball experience, many families that have children with these allergies have been unable to attend games. That is, until this season.


Now that there’s finally a peanut-free ballpark, many children are attending baseball games for the first time. Just last week, a tweet circulated of a young girl with peanut allergies at her first ever baseball game.



The Hartford Yard Goats have created an accommodating environment that allows children who otherwise wouldn’t get to experience the thrill of watching a game at the ballpark to finally get that chance. There’s something special about being at the field, and now a whole new group of baseball fans will finally get to make those same memories.


You can learn more about the Yard Goats peanut-free initiative here.




Yard Of Dreams

By: RoseAnn Sapia


When you’re not at the ballpark this summer, wouldn’t it be nice to have a yard that gave you a glimpse of it? An outdoor space that conveyed just how much baseball means to you? A balcony that, from the second your guests step outside, they know belongs to a Baseball Lifer?


Well Baseball Lifers, now you can bring your baseball lifestyle to your outdoor property with Fanatics MLB Themed Outdoor Furniture! All 30 MLB teams are represented, and there are A LOT of products and décor to choose from to express how you do baseball.




Want everyone to know what team’s colors you bleed from the moment they step foot on your porch? Then a team-branded Door Mat may be exactly what you’ve been waiting for. Choose from Coir or Vinyl Logo Mats to subtly inform everyone from your friends to your mail-carrier of your baseball fandom.





If you’re looking to be the center of social gatherings this Post-Season, why not create the bar atmosphere with a baseball twist? With team-themed Billiard Table Covers, Cue Sticks, Cue Racks, and Billiard Ball Triangles it’s easy to add a hint or four of team spirit to your Pool Table. If Darts is more your scene, the team branded Dart Cabinets would be the perfect reminder of what team has your heart. Now your favorite pastime can meet your game room to create the ultimate baseball fan social scene.




If you have a larger outdoor space, you’ll need some place to relax. Whether you have a garden, deck, or lawn the team-branded Park Bench would be a unique addition to a yard favorite. The team color schemes make them look like they could’ve been taken straight from the ballpark, and who wouldn’t want to catch that vibe?


You can find every item mentioned here, plus more outdoor décor and furniture on the Fanatics website.




Hit 'Em: Country Edition


Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats"

By: RoseAnn Sapia




“Right now…”


As soon as you hear the opening chords of this one, it’s almost impossible to refrain from singing along. This is an ultimate throwback, and baseball is an integral part of the chorus and message of this song. Bet you already know the exact lyrics I’m referring to.


I dug my key into the side
Of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive
Carved my name into his leather seats
I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights
I slashed a hole in all four tires
Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats


A Louisville Slugger represents power in baseball. It gives a batter the ability to shift the flow of a game. Hitting a baseball just might be the most difficult feat in all of sports, so those who can do it with the highest skill instill a sense of fear in the opposing team.  Afterall, the Silver Slugger is the awarded to the best offensive players in all of baseball.


There’s something foreboding about a Louisville Slugger because the batters that can really swing it are most dangerous. When Carrie chose to open the music video with a montage of her Louisville Slugger wrecking a car, you can’t help but think of the allegory.


Taking a Louisville Slugger to shatter someone’s pride, be it their headlights or their perfect ERA, paints a vivid picture. It’s a symbol of revenge, power, and destruction.


“Before He Cheats” is a song essentially about competition; someone trying to one-up the person who wronged them. Like a hitter getting revenge on a pitcher who made them look foolish by hitting a moonshot with that Louisville Slugger his next at-bat, Carrie gets revenge on a cheating boyfriend by destroying his car with that same Slugger.



Miranda Lambert's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"

By: Jessica Quiroli 

The gritty, house-on-fire sound of Miranda Lambert's 2007 single, from her album of the same name, is certainly what we've come to expect from the country star who made ACM Awards history in 2018 with her ninth consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year (surpassing Reba McEntire)['; Every album contains a song or two that sounds like Lambert is off the rails, unapologetic about her state of mind. 

But with 'Crazy Ex," she sounds, perhaps, the most unhinged she's sounded in any song, with the possible exception of her first ever single "Kerosene".

She looked at my man like he didn't have on a stitch

Somebody tell that girl to step up to the plate

I wanna pitch, little bitch

These pretty girls can play their game

but they damn well gonna know my name


The unbridled wildness of her rage, mixed with a baseball metaphor is fun, but unmistakably dangerous, like the most intimidating player going to the plate or, in this case, the mound. And that's what also makes this revenge romp even more fun--where most writers tend to use hitting metaphorically (see Underwood), Lambert makes a unique turn as a pitcher, waiting for the hitter to "step up to the plate." She finished the thought with the repeated line about being unafraid to face "pretty girls" playing "their game." She might not win, but the "damn well better know" Miranda Lambert's name. 

Btw, just in time for the MLB wildcard chase, Lambert announced her forthcoming album will be named, heyyyy, "Wildcard." And ALSO btw, here's Lambert as a Rockford peach a few years ago. Maybe that Charisma bat she's holding is the one Carrie used.

ML Peaches

Postcards From The Minor Leagues: Todd Van Steensel Faces New Questions With Optimism

This is the third installment in this series. The fourth and final part will run in July. 


Well, as you all know I am no longer in affiliated baseball and about to embark on my first journey into independent league baseball. I signed with the St Paul Saints who play in the American Association of Professional Baseball. It wasn’t something I had planned for this year, but with everything I’ve come across in life I’ve had to find a way to make it work and figure it out. And with the mentality that “It’s all part of it” I was going to make the best of a less than ideal situation. 

With being released came a lot of problems. One problem was where will I stay in the US while I find another team? Luckily the people I’m staying with were generous enough to let me stay with them for as long as I needed. It’s funny how the universe unfolds, because the person I’m living with here actually lived with my family and me in Australia for two months, about seven years ago when she worked for the Sydney Blue Sox of the ABL. So we hosted her back then, now gets to be my host here! It’s fun because her and her husband work in baseball, and are big baseball fans, so they understand the struggle of working in baseball. They have been more than accommodating to me. Image1

A second problem was how am I going to stay in game shape for the next month when I don’t have access to a baseball field? Luckily, I was able to find someone on Facebook who lives in Tempe who was also preparing to join a team in Canada. We met up everyday at a soccer field nearby to play catch. He would drive from Tempe, and I would ride a scooter to the field. Unfortunately he left to go join his team this week, so now I’m on the lookout for another catch partner! In the meantime, I’ll just continue to throw baseballs against a fence! Sometimes you just have to do the best with what’s in front of you. Find a reason to make it work instead of finding a reason you can’t do something!

A third problem was, how am I going to fund myself for the next five weeks? As everyone knows you don’t get paid a salary in spring training, so I was supporting myself with the money I saved in the offseason. Luckily I live at home in the offseason and my mum doesn’t make me pay rent, and she cooks for me every night, so I’m able to save nearly everything I make in the offseason playing in the Australian Baseball League. Along with funding myself for the next few weeks, how was I going to pay for the necessary things I need once I got to St Paul. When I got released by the Twins in August last year, another player moved into my apartment and used all the bedding, pillows and towels. Unfortunately when the season was done he wasn’t able to pack it all so I told him to leave it in Chattanooga for the next person to use. So those things were back on my shopping list of things I’ll need. Desperate times call for desperate measures and I thought, why not post my venmo account on twitter and see if anyone was willing to donate. It couldn’t hurt? People might make fun of me for it, but I’ve never been someone who has shied away from asking for help. In four days, people had donated a total of $583. That is enough to buy everything I need for my apartment, as well as contribute to paying rent. People have also messaged me saying that they can donate silverware and plates and other kitchen utensils. It is honestly heartwarming and humbling that so many people want to help you and support you. 

My mum is a big believer in paying it forward. After all the years of her taking in baseball players at our house in the off-season, her coming to the US and taking myself and teammates out for dinner or even making dinner, and just willing to help anyway she can, I think this is the universe paying it forward to me because of her. 

Which leads to the reason for this post. In times of struggle, no matter how big or small there will be people willing to help. When it’s all said and done, it’s never just you who got to where you are. Everyone who helped you along the way, they are the reason you get there. They are the ones who believe in you and support you when it gets tough, and for every single person who has gotten me to this point, I am eternally grateful.

You can follow Todd Van Steensel on Twitter @toddvs35

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

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


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.

Anthony Giansanti Talks Indy Ball & the Gift of the MLB Rules Experiment

By Jessica Quiroli

With additional reporting by RoseAnn Sapia 


In 2018, INF/OF Anthony Giansanti confidently finished the season hitting .295/.357/.456, with 58 runs batted in, and hoped an affiliated team noticed. In the Atlantic League, where you're hoping to get somewhere else, somewhere better soon, players are working to earn those chances, even a look, that might lead to a chance. 

Giansanti's team, the Sugarland Skeeters are popular with locals; they ranked 3rd in attendance overall in 2018 with 328, 491. 

Good team, good league, but Giansanti thought his own 2018 finish would perhaps lead to a bigger opportunity. 

"I will be honest, I was pretty bummed I didn’t get signed after the season I had last year," he said last week. "Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to get back to work and strap it on for another year in Indy ball."

Once he came to terms with the news, he moved forward. He knew he had a job and he was going to continue to make the most of the (key word) opportunity. Major league scouts now routinely scour the indy leagues looking for untapped talent or guys that were released, as Gisananti was in 2016 by the Chicago Cubs who signed him as a non drafted free agent in 2010, and that's been the glimmer of light for guys playing on the outskirts, completely out of affiliated baseball. But it was another year, and he knew where he was headed. Back to play it out, play it hard, maybe get that look.

Then something happened. 

In early March, the MLBPAA announced that they were partnering with the Atlantic League to experiment with rules that MLB is considering implementing in the future. Among the rules they're trying out, are no mound visits by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues, increasing the size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square, and home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system. 

"I get this news which might not seem like it is a “break” for us Indy ballers," he said. "One of our few and far between breaks."

The "break" was an intriguing announcement, inspiring debate on Twitter. Ok, so the AL will be a guinea pig. That's undeniable. The league will act as a testing ground, with teams serving a purpose to Major League Baseball. Maybe that sounds crass, and it certainly will impact players. But Giansanti is adding that factor to an already devotedly disciplined routine, one that he's not giving up on after spending five years in the minors before signing with Sugarland. 

He spends many hours in the gym, and in the batting cage; he's on the phone and writing emails to scouts, friends, keeping his ears open for a shot at something more. To his better senses, this experiment serves him as well. 

"At this point what’s the difference? Anything to get out. It’s like being in prison and you’re given an escape root but you have to flee to west instead of east," he said, then laughed. 

He's not necessarily excited about the actual rules. No, his response isn't about cherry picking what to like about his current situation. His strong reaction is about being focused on how he can make this all work for him.

" I’m talking about it from the point of view of my situation and my fellow Indy ballers who are upset about it," he said. "And people who have no idea what it’s like to be on the outside looking in while [playing here.]"

Perspective, he says, is tainted; they can "fight the man," but, ultimately, "the man" is actually getting is getting players exposure to who they need to be exposed to. That's the point. That's what they're playing for. And so, he looks forward. East, if you will. 

"Now I get to be tracked by a track Man, mlb teams in every single game at every single stadium. I’m game."

To quote a folk hero from the Old West, Wild Bill Hickok said:

"It's a free for all, and I heard it said, Stakes are high and so am I, It's in the air tonight."

You can follow Anthony on Twitter @GianSanity

Talking Shop: John Sickels on the Business of Covering MiLB

Talking Shop: Minor League Life

By Jessica Quiroli

Look for this series to be featured throughout the season! We'll talk to someone in the minor leagues about the business and media, and how those worlds intersect and impact one another.

I'm happy to present the first installment with my longtime colleague and a pioneer in the business of covering MiLB, John Sickels. Now with The Athletic for the 2019 season, Sickels was the mind behind Minor League Ball on SB Nation, where I worked with him covering the minor leagues a few years ago. We talked recently about that website, what interests him most about covering the bus leagues and how the business of minor league baseball coverage has evolved.--JQ


JQ: When you started out covering MiLB, what were fans especially interested in? Because they're so savvy now, how has their interest shifted?
I started doing prospect stuff with Bill James in 1993 then transitioned to the internet in 1996 with That was 23 years ago and the internet was just getting started, so in that way I was a pioneer.
At the time the main prospect interest came from fantasy players looking for a future edge. That is still true today, although the amount of information available today is far greater and so are the expectations. Back then a Top 50 prospect list was the gold standard. Nowadays you have Top 100 or 200 or 500 lists and information available on high school and international players who are years away from the majors.  
While fantasy players are still the main core of the audience, there has been increased interest from general baseball fans and specific followers of the minors.
JQ: When I started my own MiLB blog, Heels on the Field, in 2008, I felt unsure anyone would care about something entirely focused on the minor leagues. We're you skeptical when you began Minor League Ball? How quickly did the idea connect?
By the time I started Minor League Ball with SB Nation/Vox in 2005, I was fairly confident there would be enough interest to sustain daily blogging as opposed to occasional articles.
That was a success and although Vox pulled the plug at the end of 2018 for their own reasons, we ran for 13 years, an eternity in internet time. Our traffic grew every year and I’m proud of what we accomplished.
JQ: Do you think upstarts covering that specific aspect of baseball have a shot at connecting, or are bigger sites monopolizing the market?
I think we are in a consolidation process right now. Digital media continues to grow in terms of traffic but companies are still trying to figure out how to monetize it.
The pure advertising model used by Vox for example doesn’t seem to provide enough revenue, at least if you want to actually pay writers, and we are seeing more companies switch to a subscriber model.
My guess is that this trend will continue. Upstarts are going to have a rough time of it in the short run, but quality material will find an audience one way or another, eventually. It can take time though.
JQ: With so many people jumping to cover MiLB now, and getting more attention because of social media power, what motivates your focus? Why do you still love this?
I still love baseball but if I am completely honest, I was burned out on blogging after 13 years. I’m trying to make a living of course….I have a family to support and my wife and children are my main focus. The work supports them, not the other way around. That said, I have been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
JQ: When we worked together at Minor League Ball, we often talked about the kinds of stories readers we're interested in. What pulls you in as a writer?  Do you think readers have the same interest as you do?
I have always been more interested in the underdog type prospects, the 10th round or 20th round or non-drafted free agents who work their way to the majors without big hype.
For fantasy owners these guys have value, but on a personal, human level they hold more interest for me than the well-known bonus babies. Those types of stories pull me in, players overcoming obstacles and exceeding expectations.
JQ: How do you think the business of covering MiLB will evolve in the next few years?
I think we will see an increasing focus on players as people. The recent attention paid to poor minor league salaries is an example of that. How the business will evolve as a business is hard to say given the consolidation in digital media mentioned earlier.
JQ: Finally, what do you hope to do going forward covering MiLB? What excites you?
I will be doing a weekly prospect column for The Athletic in 2019 but it is not a full-time gig. I own the rights to the name Minor League Ball but as I noted above, I am burned out on daily blogging and am still uncertain on what I want to do in the baseball world.
Follow John on Twitter @MinorLeagueBall

Postcards from the Minor Leagues: Padres Todd Van Steensel

Postcards from the Minor Leagues

This is the first installment in a four-part series this baseball season. Todd Van Steensel will check in with blog posts on his experiences in the San Diego Padres organization, giving us a front row view of MiLB life. Look for added features such as photos and special Q&A's with every installment.-- Jessica Quiroli, AHOD Editor


Greetings from Spring Training with the San Diego Padres!


How did I wind up here, so far from home in Australia? 


Let us start when I was part of the Minnesota Twins organisation. An organisation I had been part of for six seasons. But just over a month after appearing in the Southern League All-Star Game, and spending two weeks on the injured list, I was told that there was no longer a spot for me within the Minnesota Twins and I was handed my release. Although I was disappointed and had to say goodbye to some close friends that became like family, I was excited at what the future would hold and looking towards a fresh start somewhere else. 


A few teams came calling over the next few days, affiliated and independent league teams, but nothing really worked out. I decided to begin my off-season early and prepare to play for my hometown team in the Australian Baseball League. Heading into the ABL season there was a lot of excitement for me. For the first time in six years I’d be part of my first opening day roster and able to play a full season, our team was under new ownership by one of the most passionate baseball people I’ve met, and two new teams were joining the league. But the thing I was most looking forward to was showing teams what I was capable of doing on the field and try and secure a contract in the USA for the 2019 season. 


Week one of the season came along mid November and we were facing newcomers, Geelong-Korea. A team comprised completely of Korean players from the Korean minor league or former KBO players, but they were based in a town in Australia. I pitched twice that weekend and was able to get video footage and scouting reports from that weekend. I passed it all onto my agent, who quickly shared it to any MLB team he had contacts with.


Within a week of him sending out all that information, the Padres came calling, offered me a contract and I had signed. It was a sense of relief, to know I still have a spot in baseball, and someone saw value in me. 


The ABL season came to an early end for my team, the Sydney Blue Sox, as we were knocked out in the semi finals. I didn’t have too much time to be upset and dwell on it, because in a few weeks time I was going to fly to the US for spring training. That isn’t without a little scare at first whether I’d make my flight or not! 


As an international working in the US, I need a visa and, well, the visa process isn’t fun at all! I applied for my visa on January 10th, and had a flight booked for February 21st. You would think I gave myself plenty of time to have it approved and sent back to me. But, after sending countless emails, and one tweet, which received an immediate response, my visa was back in my hands on February 18th! In years past I would send my completed papers to the Consulate and have it sent back to me within ten days but the last two years it’s been a real struggle. Last year I actually missed my first flight to Spring Training because I hadn’t received it back yet! Nonetheless, I got my visa back and made my flight! 


And this is where I am today. Currently in Peoria enjoying my first spring training in Arizona and my ninth spring training overall. No matter how many years I do this, no matter how monotonous it gets or how many bullpens, drills, games, bus rides and meetings we go through, it’s still a special feeling being in spring training preparing for another Opening Day. 


You can follow Todd on Twitter @toddvs35

Todd Van Steensel’s Decade-Long, Two Continent Experience In Professional Baseball Continues With Padres

By: RoseAnn Sapia

Upon returning home to Australia to pitch in the Australian Baseball League in 2018, Todd Van Steensel generated big league interest after just one game. 

His agent sent reports and videos from his first outing to major league clubs, and the Padres came calling.

“It actually happened really fast once my offseason began”, says Van Steensel, who announced on Twitter in late November that he’d signed with the Padres organization for the 2019 season. 

One might think a pitcher garnering this type of attention after only one game abroad wouldn’t have difficulty finding a spot in professional baseball, but this was after a “whirlwind” of a season, after Van Steensel played for two different teams, in two different hemispheres.

For the last five seasons, he pitched in the Twins organization, most recently with Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts. He was released in early August of last year, despite a successful tenure with the team. A three-time All-Star and two time Double-A champion while with the club, Van Steensel’s sudden release was as a shock.

“It was definitely a roller coaster”, Van Steensel recalls, “I went from pitching in a Double-A All-Star Game to being out of the job in the space of six weeks.” 

During a stretch of games when he didn’t have his best stuff, the Lookouts acquired lefty pitcher David Smelzer in August, and RHP Jorge Alcala earlier that summer. Both were assigned to Chattanooga, and essentially forced him out of a roster spot. Immediately after being informed of his release, he began looking for a place to play to fini. Immediately after being informed of his release, he began looking for a place to play to finish out what was left of the season. That would prove difficult.

After an affiliated job fell though because of concerns about medical issues (Van Steensel didn’t disclose details), a few opportunities to play independent ball arose. However, the 28-year old decided it was best to return to Australia, beginning his “off” season by preparing to play back home.

Not even a month after the Twins released him, the ABL Sydney Blue Sox announced that they’d signed Van Steensel for their 2018 season that was set to begin on November 15. Because he was released and had to begin his search for a new team, he got the opportunity to pitch a full season for Sydney. “That was something I hadn’t done in years”, he reflects.

There’s something “refreshing,” he says, about playing in the ABL after years in the minor leagues. The atmosphere is a bit different than American pro baseball, despite the fun, looseness of a minor league game.

“One thing that American imports tell me about the ABL that they don’t see very often in MiLB is how much passion goes into each game”, Van Steensel shares.

There’s a sense of selflessness around the ABL; a “team first” mentality that can get lose in MiLB, when guys are fighting to the top of a very long totem pole, national rankings, and money invested into top guys. MiLB is also a learning experience, designed to teach, and develop. 

But for most guys playing in the ABL, that’s their big leagues. They’re not as worried about personal stats or success, and getting to the next level. Most of the time, there is no next level. 

“Guys aren’t out there for money, they’re out there because they want to win”, said Van Steensel, “They work during the week at their 9-5 job, then from Thursday to Sunday they become fan favorites when they put on a Blue Sox uniform”.

There’s an added bonus that makes the experience more meaningful.

“There’s something special about playing in your home town, with your home town team’s name across your chest, with friends and family in the crowd each week”, he said, “It really gives you that extra motivation to do well.”

The Blue Sox high attendance might’ve helped as well. The stands were full throughout the season, with the team pulling 906 paying customers per night (3rd in league), and finished the season 3rd overall in attendance, with 17, 212.

“Sometimes I would just stand in the dugout and look at a full stadium wondering how this happened”, reflects Van Steensel. This wasn’t always the way things were at Blue Sox Stadium. A few seasons ago, the team struggled to draw fans to the ballpark. There wasn’t a “home field advantage”. 

The Sydney Blue Sox clinched their first playoff berth since 2015, but lost in the Semi-Finals to the Perth Heat. Van Steensel is proud of the efforts of new team owner Adam Dobb, who bought the club in 2018.

“Full credit to the new ownership, without [Dobb], and the new team it wouldn’t have been possible”, Van Steensel says about the atmosphere at the ballpark. 


In Reflection

Van Steensel’s professional baseball career began in 2008. He had just finished pitching in the U18s National Championship Game when his parents agreed to a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies organization, and was assigned to the Single-A Gulf Coast League team for the 2009 season.

That stint was short lived, as the team decided to release him in 2010.

He headed back to Australia, in order to attend the MLB Australian Academy on the Gold Coast. While there, he caught the attention of the Minnesota Twins organization, and got his second chance; after signing with the team, he joined the Appalachian League Elizabethton Twins. 

After 2011, he was again released, and again returned home to play with the Sydney Blue Sox. He would not return to America to play professionally again until 2014. The Twins organization that took interest yet again, and that was where he would stay until this past August. 


Going Forward


The pursuit of chasing a career in professional baseball isn’t for the faint of heart. There are countless stories about minor league life, and how challenging the professional baseball pursuit is. Van Steensel remains focused.

“It really comes down to how bad you want something”, he said.“It’s definitely tough when one day you’re a professional baseball player and the next day you’re out of the job, but you just need to back yourself. I would love to be a Major League Baseball player, this is why I do this, but when it’s all said and done the most important thing I want to be able to tell myself is that I chased my dream as far as the universe would allow me.” 

The grind of pursuing this dream goes far beyond the outfield fences of the ballpark. As players increasingly join social media to document their MiLB experiences, we’re getting a wider shot of what those dream chasers are enduring. 

“The average fan doesn’t know what it’s like, and when they hear about a few things it really opens their eyes that Minor League Baseball life is a grind”, he said.

Before players like Van Steensel began explicitly discussing the topic, one of the biggest misconceptions about minor league life was that players got paid a big-league salary. Not true, of course, as most players in the minors often have to live from paycheck to paycheck, in cramped quarters with other teammates. Many depend on host families for a season home, as well as meals.

Van Steensel’s Twitter feed is peppered with facts about minor league life: three guys sharing a one bedroom-one bathroom apartment is commonplace, with rent expenses almost cancelling out income received on payday even with those conditions.   

He hopes to bring attention to the situation, saying that it’s important for minor leaguers to be heard. Even still, almost all of his ‘MiLB Life’ tweets are accompanied with the hashtag “#AllPartOfIt”.

“We all know how lucky we are to be able to play baseball for a living, but just because we are living out our dreams doesn’t mean there aren’t certain struggles that go along with it”, asserts Van Steensel. “At the end of the day, we all remind ourselves that we get to play baseball for a living, and all the good and bad things that we endure are all part of it.”

Here's a fun fact: The guy who keeps pursuing a career in the majors (and who just won ABL Reliever of the Year honors, was once a boy who had no idea what baseball was. When Van Steensel was seven-years old, his parents wanted his brother to start playing a summer sport. A friend on his brother’s soccer team invited him to play baseball, so he did. 

Van Steensel’s parents asked if he would be interested in joining the team, too, but he was against it since he wasn’t familiar with the sport. Then, something changed. “I went to my brothers first practice and saw how cool the uniform was, and then I told my parents I wanted to play so I could get the uniform”, recalls Van Steensel

“Even to this day I’m very particular on how my uniform looks,” he admits.

2019 begins with preparation to join the San Diego Padres later this month. That is, if his visa gets back to him in time. “The visa process has become a real struggle the last two years”, he said. He’s been waiting since January 10th to receive his visa confirmation.  

Prior to last season, Van Steensel had been approved of four visas in nine years without any hassle. What used to be no more than a ten-day process has become an inconvenient waiting game. It caused him to miss his first flight to Spring Training last year, but he’s hoping that won’t be the case again this year.

“I have a flight to catch on February 21 to head to Spring Training, so I’m hoping it’s back in my hands soon!”

As soon as that visa is back in his hands, Van Steensel will make his journey overseas to join the Padres. “They offered me a good deal, and it looked like a great opportunity, so it was easy to say yes to them”, he said.

Van Steensel is getting his fourth shot at achieving his dream, and true to his social media form, he’s ready to work, and to connect.

“If you see me around, don’t be afraid to say hi!” 

Maybe tell him how great his uniform looks?