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Living the dream? Charleston RiverDogs pitcher one of many minor leaguers struggling to make ends meet

The kitchen in Garrett Broshuis’ new Connecticut apartment sat mostly barren except for a makeshift dining room table. He and his baseball-playing roommates made it out of two sawhorses and a piece of plywood because they couldn’t afford a real one.

They couldn’t afford living room furniture either — a couple of $30 air mattresses from Walmart acted as beds for a few of the teammates — and outside, the growing grass had yet to be cut all spring.

By every indication, Broshuis said, this place was “a dump” that none of them were proud of — and now, the dump had somehow gotten dumpier.

It was full of toilet water.

“I had gone to pick my then-fiancee — now wife — up from the airport, and I was already concerned about what she was going to think about this place,” Broshuis says now, about a decade after the incident.

“We get to the place and my roommates are standing at the door and they just have a look on their face … the tenants above us had left the toilet overflowing, so we had water streaming through the living room ceiling.”

The water would turn into mold after the landlord ignored the problem, and the baseball players would sleep there every night unable to afford a new place or a lengthy hotel stay.

It was one of dozens of grueling minor-league struggles that Broshuis endured during his five-year career in the San Francisco Giants farm system, and one of many examples of why now he is actively trying to change Major League Baseball’s wage practices.

Four days after his final season in the minors ended in 2009, Broshuis took the LSAT exam and quickly enrolled in law school at St. Louis University. He graduated as the valedictorian of his class and is now in the process of representing dozens of former minor leaguers who are suing MLB, the commissioner’s office and 22 individual clubs for the wages they paid minor leaguers, which did not include any overtime pay. The suit was filed in 2014 and is scheduled to go to trial in 2017. Current minor leaguers typically make anywhere between $1,100 and $2,150 a month depending on their level, with no overtime pay.

Once willing to endure nights of PB&Js for dinner in moldy apartments if it meant a shot at “The Show,” Broshuis has now turned his sights toward making sure no other minor league player has to live like he did in that grimy Connecticut apartment.

“The ability to hopefully change the system and improve things for future players — that’s the goal and that’s what we’re shooting for,” Broshuis said.

“When your actual salary starts at $1,100 per month, like everybody’s does in the minor leagues, it’s tough to pay those bills.”

Sean Carley was two years into his minor league career with the Yankees and needed some cash. Quick.

His $82,000 signing bonus shrunk to $37,000 after taxes and agent fees, and it was completely gone after two years of rent, car payments and student loans took their toll.

With the 2016 season approaching and meager baseball payments back on his horizon, the pitcher needed a fast fix if he was going to pay his bills without asking for help from his parents.

So on March 3, he and his 2006 black C230 Mercedes got to work.

Uber.

“I was looking for something that I could do while still playing baseball,” Carley said.

“I can’t hold a traditional job because of games. I’ve heard of guys doing pizza delivery and stuff, but Uber is great because I can make my own hours.”

For three months before the Yankees promoted him to the Charleston RiverDogs of the Class A South Atlantic League in June, Carley would arrive at the extended spring training complex at 6:30 a.m., stay until around 2:30 p.m. when games ended, take a quick shower and grab a quick bite to eat so he could start Ubering by 3:30 p.m.

“SLAYDEZ,” his Mercedes’ name after his DJ name from college, has transported everyone from eager mothers with baseball-playing sons to intoxicated casino-goers vacationing in Tampa, Fla.

“I’d Uber basically all of rush hour like 3:30-ish until 6:30 or 7 Monday through Friday. It was great because they pay you direct deposit every Tuesday and I was making like $35 a day. I was making probably $12-13 an hour, so it was legit,” Carley said.

“I’m glad I could say no (that it wasn’t my real job) but I loved it and it helped me out a lot. It was paying for all of my gas and all of my groceries so my family wasn’t having to help me out during extended spring training.”

Consider Carley the quintessential minor leaguer Broshuis has in mind during this suit.

While the Uber gig could be fun and wildly entertaining at times, Carley admits there is no chance he would have Ubered for three months during his season had he not desperately needed the money. The demands of performing in minor league baseball are exhausting enough as is, never mind throwing a second job into the mix while trying to focus on climbing the ranks of the farm system.

“As a young kid your dream has always been to play on TV in front of your family and for everybody to chant your name, ya know?” Carley said.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize what you have to do to get to that point. You get drafted and you still have a long road to go. There’s so many players that go through the heartache and failed relationships and monetary stress to try to do it that don’t end up making it.”

In the offseason, Carley works at Health First Hospital in Melbourne, Fla., and lives at home with his parents. He helps manage the hospital’s sleep apnea department, a 40-hour-per-week job he enjoys — he was a healthcare administration major in college — but one that also makes offseason training difficult.

While at least three RiverDogs on this season’s roster received signing bonuses of $1 million-plus and do not have to work in the offseason, they are the exceptions, not the rule.

“My offseason is very different ... I’d probably lift (weights) at 5:30 a.m., before work, or I would have to do it later on in the day. It just depends,” Carley said.

“I had a pitching development program that I put on in Melbourne so I had like 20 high school and upper middle school kids that I worked with … I would get all my throwing and stuff in the offseason done during that program.”

Now in Charleston, Carley sleeps on an air mattress in the living room of a West Ashley home he shares with some teammates. One of the private rooms with a real bed in the house would be too expensive, and now that Uber is no longer a possibility with the demands of night games, he is back to asking mom and dad for help.

A few weeks ago he got a $45 parking ticket, a fine he had no plans of paying — “with what money?!” — without contesting it first.

Were Broshuis to win the suit against MLB, Carley’s burdens might soften.

“They’re just fighting for us to make as much as the guy working in the kitchen at McDonald’s. And nothing against him, but there’s a reason that minimum wage is there,” Carley said. “It’s so that you can afford to work for this company and still take care of yourself out there.”

In June, Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) introduced the ‘Save America’s Pastime Act,’ a piece of legislation that would protect MLB’s wage practices.

According to a release from Minor League Baseball, “the legislation would amend the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to clarify that Minor League Baseball players are not subject to a law that was intended to protect workers in traditional hourly-rate jobs.”

Major League Baseball supports the act, writing in a statement that it makes no sense to pay minor leaguers hourly wages when their hours could vary by day.

“There are approximately 7,500 players in Minor League Baseball. MLB pays over a half a billion dollars to Minor League players in signing bonuses and salary each year,” the statement said.

“Moreover, for the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.”

RiverDogs general manager and president Dave Echols deferred comment to the league.

While MLB is accurate when it says it awards millions in signing bonuses, Chip Cannon, an attorney in Moncks Corner who played at The Citadel and in the minors, pointed out that the large bonuses only come in the early rounds.

“Your top 10 rounds are probably all well compensated but after that, $10,000 doesn’t go that far after taxes and all that stuff,” he said.

Collectively, the 30 MLB teams paid signees a total of $234,331,200 in bonuses this year. The Yankees’ pool was $5,831,200, but to Cannon’s point, almost 60 percent of that money went to the club’s first and second-round picks alone. The draft has 40 rounds.

Some players, particularly seniors out of college with no leverage, often sign for $1,000 just for a chance to play.

Carley had another year of eligibility left at West Virginia, which is why his agent was able to negotiate a larger bonus, but now that the bonus is gone, Carley has found himself at a crossroads: Does he keep playing baseball as an almost 26-year-old making less than minimum wage in the minors? Or does he start looking for a more traditional career?

“At the beginning of this season my goal was to get a solid career path for my life,” he said.

“I just wanted something to shine a light on itself.”

Broshuis hopes such a decision becomes unnecessary after the trial. With the suit, he wants Carley to leave baseball one day on his own accord or because his body doesn’t have anything left in the tank — not because he can’t afford to continue chasing a dream.

Broshuis learned last month that the suit cannot proceed as a class-action suit, meaning it is not yet known if it will be heard in court as one trial on behalf of all of the players or several individual trials.

But Broshuis has said he might appeal. This suit is for all of those that came before him, and all of those who will play professional baseball one day in the future.

“There’s a lot of stuff to like about the game of baseball,” he said.

“(My son) loves going out there as a 2-year-old and already, he’s hitting the ball off the tee … of course I’ll encourage him to (play).

“But hopefully, through this lawsuit, if he ever was fortunate enough to be drafted in the draft, hopefully he wouldn’t have to face these same things that thousands of other minor leaguers are facing right now.”

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