For Padres farmhands, work doesn't end on field
Some pick up offseason jobs to supplement modest Minor League income
SAN DIEGO -- Going hitless in four at-bats with two strikeouts in his professional debut stung a bit, though it didn't qualify as a grim eye-opener for Cody Decker.
His after-tax signing bonus as a 22nd-round Draft pick in 2009 certainly did, though.
"Six hundred and thirty eight dollars," Decker said, slowly enunciating the terms of his bonus. "I was able to get a nice steak and that's about it."
It wasn't long thereafter when Decker, a first baseman/outfielder in the Padres system, had an epiphany of sorts about his lot in life.
"More than anything, I love playing professional baseball," Decker said. " ... But it doesn't always pay the bills."
That's why Decker and a handful of other Padres Minor League players have taken offseason jobs -- not unlike players did many years ago. Nolan Ryan was once an air-conditioning installer. Yogi Berra and a few Yankees teammates sold suits at a department store.
Baseball remains a seasonal job, where players are paid in-season. The pay isn't always great, especially for younger players. While the Major League minimum salary in 2012 was $480,000, the figure for first-year players, regardless of their organization, runs about $1,110 a month during the season.
The higher you go, the more you earn -- roughly $1,200 a month in high Class A, $1,900 a month for playing in Double-A. As for Decker, who split last season between Double-A and Triple-A, he earned in upward of $2,300 a month.
But when the season ends, so do the checks.
Decker, 25, has had a relatively quiet offseason, giving hitting lessons. He's also volunteering his time as a part-time baseball coach at Windward High School in Los Angeles.
It's pretty tame stuff to what Decker did as recently as last offseason -- bartending, serving as a bouncer and hosting his own trivia night at South, which sits on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica.
"It was a trivia and burlesque show," Decker said. "Give me a microphone and I'll talk for hours. If I ever needed a press conference, it would be the best press conference ever."
Decker, who will likely open the season with Triple-A Tucson, decided to find a gig this winter that was a little less, well, perilous.
"The last straw was last year when a fight broke out," Decker said. "I went to break it up and I ended up wearing a punch to the back of the head. You're [as a bouncer] not allowed to fight back and that's fine, because I'm not into fighting. But it angered me so much. I was like, 'I've had enough of this.'"
Decker isn't the only Padres Minor Leaguer who has supplemented his seasonal income with a job his winter.
Take 21-year-old second baseman Maxx Tissenbaum, who was an 11th-round pick in 2012 out of Stony Brook University.
When an offseason job Tissenbaum had held the last three winters in his hometown of Toronto didn't materialize this year, he caught on with Splash International Marketing, which imports 350 products a year to gift, home decor and gardening stores.
"It's everything from art that's in your living room to those stakes you plant in your garden that look like sunflowers," he said.
Tissenbaum, who was a marketing major at Stony Brook, feels he's had a hand in just about every aspect of the business.
"My first day, I worked at a trade show off-site, helping set up booths for a gardening show," he said. "I've done a little bit of everything -- work in our accounts receivable department, secretary-type work. The last month or so, I've been working in the purchasing department."
Tissenbaum works three days a week from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. and heads across town for workouts. On Tuesday and Thursday, he's done at 1:30 p.m., allowing him to train earlier. He gets the weekends off at Splash -- but not from working out in preparation for what will be his first full professional season in 2013.
Pitcher Matt Chabot, a 21st-round pick out of Riverside Community College in 2012, recently completed a two-month stint at Costco in Corona, Calif. A co-worker recently suggested to Chabot he could skip the gym after tossing around 50-pound bags of dog food, one of many tasks he had as a merchandiser.
"I would stock the shelves, lifting water, paper, dog food ... it was lots of lifting," said Chabot, who is a big fan of the Costco chicken bake. "Before I'd go to work, I would get all my baseball stuff done, go to the gym, throw some and then go to Costco."
Pay aside, the job had other benefits, Chabot said.
"I bought them their Christmas gift from Costco, a Samsung television for their bedroom," he said about his parents. "It was also their 40th anniversary [Dec. 27] and they never had a TV in their room. They loved it."
At some point soon enough, these jobs will end and baseball will begin. Minor League players report to the Padres' Spring Training facility in Arizona on March 1.
Tissenbaum said he would certainly revisit an offseason job at Splash next winter if the company will have him. This experience, he said, has been more than just about putting money in his pocket.
"Even when the job was just coming together, I looked at it as something to put gas money in my car ... money to go see my friends, to help pay for my training," Tissenbaum said. "After a while, I realized it has turned into more, that this is what I would be doing if I wasn't playing baseball.
"To get this kind of work experience now, it looks good on a resume. I don't want to think about it now, but there is life after baseball at some point."