Lending a Helping Hand to Minor Leaguers

Most of the headlines about baseball players' salaries involve sums of money that most people could never fathom earning. However, while major league baseball players and some select draft picks make a fortune, the majority of baseball players are barely getting by and some are trying to support a family at the same time. A new organization is setting out to help those players and their families.

The road through the minor leagues can be a tough one for any player. The constant moving, the long bus rides, the bad meals, the hot weather, etc. can make playing minor league baseball a grind. That grind can be even more difficult for players who have to leave their wives and children back home for the entirety of the baseball season. This can often mean that a player will be away from his wife and family for as long as six months of the year.

Laurel Sharpe knows the ups and down of minor league baseball well. Her husband, Steve Sharpe, has been a reliever in the Oakland A's minor league system since being drafted in the 11th round in 2004. Laurel and Steve married in 2006 and since that time, Laurel has traveled with Steve wherever his career has taken him.

"Since then, we've gone through a lot of transitions, going from Illinois to California to Texas. I've seen that a lot of wives don't travel and a lot of families don't travel because they just can't afford it," Laurel Sharpe said.

She noted that one teammate of Steve's in Stockton a few years back retired because he was missing his child's first words.

Her experience being one of the few wives who is able to travel with her husband during the season gave Laurel the idea to form a non-profit to give financial aid to minor league players who are married and/or have at least one child. The non-profit organization is called Financial Aid Serving Families in the Minors (FASFIM) and it was recently recognized by the IRS as exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the US Internal Revenue Code, meaning that donations to the organization can be tax deductible.

The overarching mission of the organization is "to promote family wholeness and well-being."

"Beyond baseball, family is a very important part of life," Laurel Sharpe said.

It may seem odd to associate professional athletes with poverty, but that is the reality for many minor league baseball players. While the top draft picks and major leaguers bring in big money, the majority of professional baseball players in the US are barely getting by. A player on a typical Triple-A contract, which is the top of the pay scale, makes roughly $2,250 a month. Players are only paid during the season, so a player on a standard Triple-A contract will bring home roughly $13,500 for the entire year, putting them under the poverty level in most states. Given that reality, most players' wives have to stay back in their hometowns and work full-time, meaning that players are separated from their wives for at least half of the year.

The goal of FASFIM is to give out aid to players with families based on need. Applications will be available at the end of each season and will be due by January. That application will ask the player to provide information on his family, as well as the round that he was drafted in and information on supplemental income a player or his wife might bring in during the year.

"It's not something that you pay back. It's not a loan by any means. The salary takes into account all of their income, including anything that they make in off-season jobs," Laurel Sharpe said.

FASFIM plans to start their fundraising efforts with the Oakland A's organization. They hope to host fundraising events with each of the A's minor league affiliates during the season. Over time, FASFIM aims to build relationships with all of the 30 major league organizations and their affiliates and receive donations from players who have made it to the big leagues.

"If a player is called up to the big leagues, in one day they make roughly the same amount that they make at Triple-A for the entire month," Laurel Sharpe said.

"I remember thinking that that is crazy and that if Steve ever made it to the big leagues – God willing – I would hope that he would give back a little bit and give back to the guys who want to see their children more or have a wife who wants to travel. We are hoping that FASFIM will someday be able to pay for itself."

In addition to financial aid for the players, FASFIM plans to give back to the youth baseball community by organizing baseball clinics in communities that support minor league baseball. They also hope eventually to be able to provide some scholarships for youth baseball players.

"It will really depend on how much money we raise, but it would be scholarships for kids who would like to participate in a camp or in an athletic league that he or she can't afford," Laurel Sharpe said.

Other planned activities include writing and publishing a children's book that will be sold in team shops for minor and major league baseball tams to raise money for FASFIM.

FASFIM is based in Kansas City, Missouri, and is led by a Board of Directors that includes Laurel and Steve Sharpe, Laurel's sister, former A's farmhand Nick Blasi, an executive of a non-profit organization and a financial planner.

Anyone interested in learning more about FASFIM or in making a donation can go on the FASFIM Web site (http://www.fasfim.org).

Melissa Lockard is the senior editor of OaklandClubhouse.com and appears courtesy of Scout.com.

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