Originally created 12/03/06

Major-league dreams are anything but cheap



Five of them sometimes cram together in a sport utility vehicle or a pickup to get around every day.

As many as six of them live in the same apartment, eating ramen noodles or hot dogs left over from the concession stands.

Ah, yes, the glorious lifestyle of the minor league athlete in Augusta.

"There are some guys who make the bigger bucks, but most of us are just scraping by," Lynx defenseman Nathan Saunders said. "We're not living in luxury by any means."

Sure, the young men who play for the Augusta Lynx double-A hockey team and the Augusta GreenJackets Class A baseball team are paid to play sports, just like their counterparts with the San Francisco Giants of Major League Baseball or the Anaheim Ducks of the National Hockey League.

But the paychecks they receive and the lives they lead are hardly big league.

"It's certainly not glamorous," GreenJackets general manager Nick Brown said. "There is no glamour. At this level, it's more about sacrificing for the chance to chase your dream."

It is a common misconception: the idea that they, as minor league athletes, have more money and more perks than the average young adult.

"Several fans routinely inquire about the players' salaries, and when I give them the range, they find it hard to believe," Lynx general manager Dan Troutman said.

The average salary for an ECHL player is $542.50 per week, if the team is spending to its cap. Troutman said the range usually falls between $400 per week to $1,200 per week, depending on experience and skill.

Lower-level Class A baseball players, like the GreenJackets, earn a salary ranging from $550 per week to $725 per week.

"Yeah, guys aren't driving around in million-dollar cars," Lynx defenseman Ken Scuderi said.

Paying their dues

There are the occasional players who collect a hefty signing bonus from the big-league organization on draft day - often in the six- or seven-figure range - and spend some time with the GreenJackets or Lynx.

But those players, sometimes called "bonus babies," aren't very common and usually don't stay in Augusta long.

The rest of the players, the everyday minor leaguers, can only hope to make millions in the future.

"You don't want to call it sacrificing, but it's part of paying your dues," Lynx coach Bob Ferguson said. "For most of these guys, these are expected to be the early stages of a successful pro career, and the big money is to come later.

"A lot of times people get confused and think these guys are like NHL or NBA players making millions of dollars. But these guys really have to push through and work their way up to get close to that level."

In the ECHL, the minimum pay for a rookie (less than 25 games of professional experience) is $330 per week. The minimum for a returning player is $360 per week.

Players are paid by their respective team.

"Some guys are obviously making more than other guys," said Lynx goaltender Brett Jaeger, a former ECHL All-Star. "Some of the first-year guys don't make a whole lot. It's pretty tough to live on that."

By comparison, the minimum NHL salary is $450,000, and the maximum this season is $8.36 million (Jaromir Jagr).

In baseball, minor league players are paid by the parent organization, San Francisco in the case of the GreenJackets.

First-year Class A players earn $550 per week, second-year players earn $625 and third-year guys earn $700 .

Those numbers go up to $575, $650 and $725 for a player with four years or more of short-season experience.

For Major League Baseball, the minimum salary last season was $327,000, and the maximum was $25.2 million (Alex Rodriguez).

"When guys are here, you're really just waiting to get called up, to make that extra money," Scuderi said. "You're doing it for the love of the game and sticking with it, all to hopefully get to the next level."

Expenses, other income

Lynx players have their equipment, medical insurance and utilities (rent, furniture, cable, power, water, gas, trash pickup) paid for by the team.

They are responsible for their own transportation (which is why they often share vehicles), food and any other recreational expenses, except on road trips.

"It's not the life everybody sometimes thinks, that we're making tons of money," said Lynx rookie Nick Van Herpt, who often hauls three or four of his teammates around in his Ford F-150.

"It's a tight squeeze, and I've only got a crew cab. But the guys are pretty good about it. They chip in for gas."

When on the road, ECHL players are given $6, $8 and $16 for breakfast, lunch and dinner, respectively.

"Sometimes people think our road trips are glamorous like you sometimes hear about (in the pros), but these guys aren't getting $80 per diems, and they don't get chartered planes," Ferguson said. "I'd like to see them ride for hours on a bus and go through what these guys do for what they get."

Augusta's minor league baseball players have their equipment paid for by the Green Jackets (responsible for 1/3 of the cost) and the Giants (responsible for 2/3). But they have to pay their own rent, which is why they often maximize the number of roommates.

All minor league baseball players, including the Triple-A players with a decade of experience, are given a per diem of $20 when on the road.

Per diems for both teams are tax-free, to be spent on meals or anything else.

"If they have an eight-game road trip, that's $160 cash. It's their money, and sometimes they'll watch what they spend and come home with more money than what they left with," Brown said.

Because minor leaguers are paid only during the season, most pick up jobs in the off-season. Most of them work at camps, to stay busy and in shape.

"Some guys can make it on their salaries, but when most guys go home, they have to find work," Scuderi said. "It really all depends on what kind of contract you have."

Contracts

Most minor league baseball contracts are for one season, and set salaries range from $375 per week in the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues to $1,400 per week for a third-year Triple-A player with three or more years of Double-A experience.

But in hockey, there are a number of different kinds of contracts.

An NHL one-way deal guarantees the negotiated NHL rate of pay regardless of where the player plays.

The more common entry-level contract is a two-way deal - separate rates for time spent in the NHL and the minors. In this deal, time spent in the Triple-A American Hockey League and the Double-A ECHL is paid the same.

There also is a three-way contract, which usually pays different rates for time at the NHL, AHL and ECHL levels.

In addition, there are AHL two-way contracts, which pay different rates for each of the two minor leagues, and the ECHL contract, a deal signed with just an ECHL team.

The ECHL contract is the only non-guaranteed deal, meaning an ECHL team can waive a contract with one week's severance pay, making it an even more daunting way to earn a living.

Augusta Fireball soccer players retain amateur and NCAA status and are not compensated for play, other than travel expenses.

Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or steven.l.sanders@augustachronicle.com.

AUGUSTA LYNX

The NHL is a long way from James Brown Arena, the home of the Augusta Lynx, for a majority of the ECHL players. Although much of their living expenses are paid for - equipment, rent, furniture, utilities and medical insurance - their weekly salaries pale in comparison to those at higher levels. A look at the money paid in the top three hockey leagues:

Minimum salary Per diem
ECHL * $330 or $360/week $30
AHL ** $931 or $1,207/week $58
NHL $16,666/week $85

* The minimum for ECHL rookies with less than 25 games' experience is $330 per week; all others make at least $360 weekly


** The minimum for ECHL players on loan to the AHL is $931 per week; AHL regulars make at least $1,207 per week.

AUGUSTA GREENJACKETS

A look a the salaries by years' experience (in dollars per week) for minor league baseball players, including the Augusta GreenJackets:

Class A * 1 year 2 years 3 years
$575 $650 $725
Class A 1 year 2 years 3 years
$550 $625 $700
Short A 1 year 2 years 3 years
$550 $550 $550
Rookie 1 year 2 years 3 years
$550 $550 $550

* With four years or more of Short A experience


Road per diem: $20 at all levels


What's Paid for by the franchise: Equipment, medical insurance

Players are Responsible for: Rent, furniture, utilities, transportation

AUGUSTA SPARTANS

A look at what the Augusta Spartans stand to make in the World Indoor Football League:


Salary: $250/week, plus a $50 bonus for a victory


Exception: One player on each roster, a franchise player, makes $500/week


What's Paid for by the franchise: Rent, meals