More than a game

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By Kate Jaeger/ El Inde

In a four-bedroom house filled with empty Gatorade bottles, baseball bats and mattresses on the floor, live five minor league baseball players. One of them is Ryan Haug, a 6-foot, 165-pound catcher.

In 2018, Haug played baseball for The University of Arizona and would later be drafted that year to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 27th round —independently, without an agent.

An agent would have helped Haug negotiate a better salary over and above the minimum salary, but he would have also received a cut of whatever Haug made. Since he only made a $5,000 signing bonus and players make so little during the season, Haug has to work in the offseason for his uncle, just 20 minutes outside of Tucson, doing construction. In the process, Haug has learned that “going pro” is anything but glamorous.

“Being in the minor leagues is definitely a grind, you don’t make a great living but it’s something I love to do,” said Haug.

Haug’s parents occasionally help him with some of his finances given his busy schedule and inability to work another job. 

“They have sent me money for food or helped me with some of my bills … They have definitely been very supportive, but I try not to always rely on them,” said Haug.

This is not an unusual circumstance in this type of career. Haug and all players in the Single-A minor league system make about $300 a week, working practically everyday. This money has to go towards food and other living expenses. Whenever Haug works in construction, he can make $100 to $200 more a week while only working three-to-four days.

“A lot of guys are in the same boat,” explained Haug. “You’ll hear stories of big leaguers driving Über for months. Guys will literally do anything just to make some extra cash and be able to eat.”

One of these players is Cameron Cannon, Haug’s roommate for the offseason and a former Arizona Baseball teammate. Cannon worked for Postmates during the last 2020 offseason and spent his nights delivering food around Tucson, only making about $5 to $10 an hour.

“I needed a job where I could make my own hours because I still needed to get my training in during the day,” said Cannon.

Someone also affected by Haug’s career is his girlfriend, Mackenzie Zanello. The two met at the University of Arizona in 2018. Zanello graduated with a law degree and had plans to become an attorney until she came to the realization that law school did not fit into the life she and Ryan were building together. She lives with him in Tucson and tries to follow him wherever he plays, picking up babysitting jobs along the way.

“I have always wanted to go to law school and as time approached I had to step back and think (our) life together. It’s so hard with him being gone for so long and us potentially being in different cities,” said Zanello.

Zanello recently got hired by American Airlines and will be training to become a flight attendant.

“I think that this is a good career with his life because I can go visit him a lot more and I have the opportunity to live wherever I want,” said Zanello.

However, a career in professional baseball can end at any time. When an organization does not see a future for players on their team, they can just call them into the manager’s office and release them. All they get is a ticket to return home.

“It’s the kind of life that you sign up for. It’s tough, and you never know what your future holds. You just always have to show up and play at a higher level than you did last season,” said Haug.

This past February, Major League Baseball made an announcement that they will be increasing their season players’ salaries by almost double the current amount during the 2021 season. Single-A players like Haug will go from making about $290 to $500 a week. Haug thinks it’s a step in the right direction, but still not enough to really make ends meet.

“It’s definitely hard, but it’s something you love so you kind of sacrifice. It would be really nice to make a little bit more doing something that you love,” said Haug.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Haug and Zanello recently had to move back to Ryan’s home in California. Their lives are currently on hold. All players for all organizations, including minor and major leagues, were told to go home and stay safe. They are still being paid at this time.

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