10 Things to Know About Playing in the Independent Leagues

Spread the love

Playing in the independent baseball leagues

So your college eligibility is honorably maxed out.  The draft has come and gone without getting the call.  You feel you are on top of your game and there is still more that you want to accomplish as a ball player.  So where to look now???  Being a professional baseball player is every boyhood dream….especially yours.  So to fill on the gaps on how it all works, Here are 10 things to know about playing in the Independent Leagues.


1. Put Up or Shut UP!!!

playing in the independent baseball leagues Baseball is a business.  The main product is a winning team.  At this level the largest source of revenue for clubs are fireworks nights.  So it can’t afford to have players out there who can’t get the job done. When this is the case, the manager/GM have to make a change. No charity innings in pro ball.  That’s for sure.  There will be mop up innings to be had, however, you must earn your stay, even in that role.  You can even get the quick hook in mop up duty.  It’s put up or shut up.  Managers and pitching coaches are not looking for a pitcher to find his groove. It’s go time from Day 1.  Excuses are not welcome.


2. The Level of Independent Leagues

playing in the independent leagues
As of the beginning of the 2017 season, there are 8 Indy ball leagues. They all have their own skill, experience and talent level.  The Atlantic League usually takes the cake as the top indy ball league.  This league usually features former big league all stars, world champions and even future hall of famers.  These are guys who know how the play the game.  Although, an umpire in the league has told me, that a good Slider can get a lot of hitters out in this elite level….just saying…

Other leagues which are more advanced are the American Association and the Can Am League.  Although, it is common for undrafted players to be signed into these 2 leagues.

The Frontier League is a great level to start at for those players out of college.  It’s been doing so for 25 years. The league is focused on getting their players signed to Major League Organizations.  This league has produced quite a few big leaguers who started out as an undrafted player out of college.  Check the list here to name a few.
Leagues that also appeal to undrafted college players, are the Pacific Association, the Pecos League, Empire League and the United Shore League.


3. You Gotta Want to be There!!!

playing in the independent leagues

Grueling conditions are a part of this endeavor.  Stark heat and humidity.  Lack of a training staff. The need to tolerate eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a daily basis. This lifestyle is not cushy nor can you live life on your own terms while you are here. You gotta want to be there. Because if not, there are 1000s of players who will take your spot in and heartbeat.   Your main obligation is to play the game.  It’s all about putting on your spikes and going to work every day.  As always, winning makes the conditions enjoyable.

4. Surely, It is NOT About the Money

playing in the independent leagues

My first contract paid me $600 per month. One team that I played for in a now defunct league, paid even less than half that.  Amazingly, they have the nerve to deduct taxes from your paycheck.  Now the max in some leagues, is around $3000 per month. In addition, you will get $15-$20 per day meal money on the road.  It’s not about the money.  Playing in the Independent leagues, for most is an opportunity to see how far they can make it as a ball player. Self fulfillment. Accomplish things that no one can ever take away from you.  When you time comes to hang it up, you can walk away without regret.


5. …On the Road Again

playing in the independent leagues

This I am sure you have heard about in some capacity. Long bus rides in minor league baseball are an understatement. Long bus rides on a regular basis are more like it.   the Willie Nelson song will be stuck in your head at some point.  A 15+ hour bus trip the length of Texas, from panhandle to the congruence of the Gulf of Mexico and the border, to play opening day is just a regular occurrence.   5 hour bus rides in the night are a delight.   They just don’t come around as often as you wish.

Keep in mind, that when you have an off day and have to travel, the bus won’t leave until midnight.  No reason for the team to pay for a hotel.   You are sleeping on the bus again.   The silver lining of this feature, is that you learn to disconnect from the game.  When you play every day, you need to shut off from the game when your free time arrives.  

There is always the possibility of travel teams.  This happens when a team financially goes under and leaves the league with an odd number of teams.   So the league foots the bill for transportation and hotels while the team plays all of their games on the road.  Every 3 days, you hop on the bus, ride through the night, and play the next day in a new city.  You are living in hotels out of your suitcase for 3 months.  No home field advantage, no walk off wins, no fan base.

It’s all about playing the game.  You will make more in meal money.  But Hey!  It’s still professional baseball.


6. It’s NOT Semi-Pro

playing in the independent leagues

Jackie Moon would be so proud.  It’s pro baseball. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.  You are paid to play. Because indy ball is not in the main stream, non baseball people, who think they are knowledgeable, will make snark comments trying to denounce your advancement.  Also, for players who have some success in an adult summer league, this doesn’t mean that indy ball is the next level.

Jumping from playing against has beens and never will be hitters is not a prerequisite for pro ball.  You are yet to face a masher who has had multiple 30 HR seasons in the bigs.  What is your plan to get him out?  Professional baseball it is, be proud to be there.  You do get to sign autographs.  Quite a thrill….just don’t sign the sweet spot of the baseball….that will cost you!


7. Welcome to the Baseball Hierarchy 

playing in the independent leagues

As of right now, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are arguably atop the pitching pyramid.  Then everyone else falls into line.   In the revolving door occupation that is baseball, those with a higher rank in the hierarchy will get preference.  This is based off of track record.  A player who was drafted in the 10th round a few years back and was just released from Double A, will undoubtedly get the job over an undrafted kid out of college.  Just the way it goes.  The It’s a Numbers Game speech seems to be standard issued. When your talent is up to par, there will be a roster spot available for you elsewhere.   You have to stay persistent and continue to promote yourself.

8. You Can Establish Yourself

playing in the independent leagues

When you pitch well, you stay.  If you pitch well, and still get the wrong number in the numbers game, then you are in demand.  Other teams will want your services.  They know what you can do, and you moved up a level in the pyramid. When you are able to perform to this level, you can build a good resume for yourself.  Often you will see a player find a home with an indy ball team.  They will play several seasons there, become a fan favorite, and establish themselves and their families in the community.  Along with some additional perks.  Next to climbing the baseball ladder, players with this status are the envy of other indy ball players.


9. The Scouts are Watching

playing in the independent leagues
MLB teams have expanded their scouting departments to search for talent playing in the independent leagues. Several years back, it was inspiring that an indy ball player could get signed by a MLB organization.  Now, it has become common place.  As the way the game goes, injuries occur and promotions/demotions happen, therefore teams have to scramble to fill spots. Organizations will call indy ball teams and say:
We need a starter in Triple A in 2 days.  When did SO & SO last pitch?


10.  It’s Not too Good for Legends

playing in the independent leagues
1 Word…..RICKEY!!!!

Don’t know Rickey?  Rickey Henderson. The All time stolen base leader (1406). He did that about half way through his career.  All Time Leader in Runs Scored (2295). 2nd All time in Walks (2190), 3055 hits,  81 Leadoff Homeruns (Most All Time), 1990 AL MVP, 1989 ALCS MVP, 10x All Star, 3 Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove, 2x World Series Champ (1989, 1993), 25 years in the Show. 2009 Hall of Famer.

He played 220 games in the independent leagues at the end of his career.  2003-04, for the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League, and in 2005 he played with the San Diego Surf Dawgs in the Golden League.  Rickey did what Rickey does best.  In his 220 games, 62 for 70 in SB, 204 Hits, 174 Runs Scored, and 219 Walks.  .291 AVG.  Up to age 46, it was a great example to see that one of the best ever loved the opportunity to keep playing the game competitively.


Ready to be Playing in the Independent Leagues?

So there you have it.  10 things to know about playing in the independent leagues.
Glamorous? No.  Big Pay days? Not at the moment.  Rigorous conditions?  They have their share.   In my 3 years of experience in playing at this level, no one is willing to give up their job.  They handle themselves as professionals and have the desire to get better day in, day out.  That is how you have to be at this level.  When you put in the work and know whether you have what it takes to be a professional baseball player, a very special feeling comes with signing your first professional contract.  Despite all the ups and downs of this level, believe me….its worth it!

Keep Dominating!!!

About the Author

Brad Kirsch Slider DominationBrad Kirsch is the Owner/Creator of Slider Domination. He is a former professional pitcher who blogs about all things Pitching. Brad has also authored the AudioBook, 7 Reasons Why YOU Should Throw a Slider. If you haven’t done so already, you can Download the AudioBook Here



playing in the independent leaguesPlaying in the Independent Leagues

Comments are closed.

Slider Domination on SoundCloud