MINNEAPOLIS – There were a couple hundred cows at Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville, Ind., and at least that many chickens, as Micah Johnson remembered it. Workdays would start when his mother, Tanya, dropped him near dawn at the barns. Johnson, as his shoulders suggest, baled a lot of hay in those years. For the cows, he'd milk them or "move their field," which involved shifting the fences to areas where there was grass. For the chickens, he'd kill them.
"If you had to," he said. "Just slit their throats."
Reside in the barns at Traders Point Creamery, see Micah Johnson coming, better to be a cow.
It was good, steady work for Johnson, who played baseball at his high school in Indianapolis, wasn't drafted, then went to Indiana University. In 2012, the Chicago White Sox took him in the ninth round. On Sunday, he played second base for the U.S. team in the Futures Game.
Johnson's father works in a bank. His mother is a Spanish teacher. A young man worked for his money. So Micah did, in the summers a full day's worth, knocking off in time for an evening ballgame.
"Yeah, I worked, man," he said.
Once, when the game didn't pay so well and winter was for important things like resting, falling out of shape and running out of money, professional ballplayers pumped gas or drove cabs or sold insurance or ran out of money.
We don't hear about offseason jobs much anymore. It's the money, of course. We don't hear much about the players who do work all winter, because they are minor leaguers and probably weren't the first-rounders or slot-busters, and winters are for getting bigger and stronger and more skilled anyway.
Besides, baseball is a job. Sometimes, from the time players are 10 or 12 years old, baseball is a full-time, year-round, leave-your-childhood-at-the-door job. Do it well enough and it's a long, lucrative career, and just the chance at it – long as the odds may be – is enough to prioritize batting cage over burger grill.
So, talk to a couple handfuls of players from the 50 or so in the clubhouses here Sunday, ask if they ever had held jobs other than baseball, plenty shake their heads no. They played baseball. They worked baseball. They're here, in their late teens and early 20s, and are among the elite prospects in the game. They had to get here somehow, and that meant reps, and that meant games, and that meant hours.
Still, right-hander Alex Meyer, a first-rounder for the Washington Nationals three summers ago before being traded to the Minnesota Twins, goes home to Greensburg, Ind., each winter and becomes a substitute teacher. Kindergartners, eighth-graders, high school seniors, whatever they send him.
Michael Taylor, a Double-A outfielder for the Nationals, worked at a Boston Market in Coral Springs as a meat carver. Presumably, he could have turned Micah Johnson's chickens into nice, thinly sliced sandwiches. If a few hours a day over a spinning blade seems risky for a young man with dreams of a baseball career, he wore a glove made of metal mesh.
"My dad was freaked out," Taylor said. "He said, 'If you lose a finger …' "
Truth be told, he didn't love the job. Not compared to playing ball, anyway.
"I mean, it was fun to have a real job, to have that experience," he said. "If anything, you learn that is what I don't want to do."
As a part-time teacher, Meyer views his offseason gig in reverse. He entered the University of Kentucky as an education major, found that chewed up too much time for a ballplayer and switched to agriculture. He's less than a year from his degree.
His father owns a car dealership. His mother works in a school superintendent office. And he went to college wanting to become a teacher. First, he'd pitch and see how that went, and it's gone OK, earning him a $2 million signing bonus and bringing him to the brink of the big leagues. In between, the phone would ring and he'd report to a school and a classroom, follow whatever plan the teacher had left for him, make his $63, enjoy the experience and prepare for the unknown.
"It could all end after the game today," he said. "Or, you could pitch for 15 years in the big leagues."
Besides, he said, "When I get home, it's cold."
So, he goes to work.
"It gets you outta bed," he said. "It wakes you up. It fills your day. It's really just about the experience."
He had a job in high school, too. For maybe a month. He was a deliveryman for Pizza King, crisscrossing town in his huge pickup truck, which ate up his profits in gas money. That career died with an untidy test score.
"My dad told me I was done," Meyer said.
From then on, baseball only. Goodbye deliveryman. Hello delivery, man.
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