$600 a Month and a Free Bed: The Minimum-Wage Life of a Semi-Pro Baseball Player 

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"We don't take no bull here," Schiffbauer says, "There's no foul language. If there's an incident, I deal with it. If I can't, my boss will. If he can't, well, then we've got the boys in blue," Schiffbauer smiles. "But we never have incidents."

He dashes up the stairs, off to rag another regular, and suddenly there's a game on. When the Wild Things come to the plate, All-Pro Freight Stadium explodes with sugary pop anthems: Hanson's "MMMBop," TLC's "Waterfalls," Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby One More Time." These are all incredible, but Celine Dion's "I'm Your Lady" — now that's comedy of a high order.

The stands are filling in with families and young boys still in uniform and lawyers in suits. Today is Law Firm Appreciation Night, after all. The sun descends slowly somewhere out of sight and the attorneys enjoy the same $2 beers as truckers and the retirees and the writers.

Parents read to their children from picture books. Pizza Hut shoves free wings into the hands of anyone who'll relieve them of their promotional flyers on the concourse. The Crushers, sporting the low-frequency mohawks currently in vogue, are rubbing their eyes and playing catch and preparing mentally for the night's ongoing battles. Money is the furthest thing from anyone's mind.

$10

That's the cost of a T-shirt in the Crushers' team shop. It's cheaper than the Indians' tee it resembles, but an autograph on it is no less valuable, at least for the little boy making his way down the steps toward the Crushers' dugout, holding his grandma's hand.  They've spotted Andrew Davis.

"Would you sign it for him," the grandma asks Davis. "You've got the same number."

Davis takes a Sharpie and scrawls his signature over the yellow dugout bar, stabilizing the boy as he presses the marker into the fabric near his neck.

"There ya go, kid," he says with a not-quite smile.

There's something almost mythic about the stoicism of professional athletes. It's like their words are sanctified by their scarcity. Davis is one of them. He's not much of a talker, but he loves baseball as much as anyone who's ever played.

In the offseason, back home in Chillicothe, he delivers packages for FedEx and landscapes for his cousins and does his best to assemble enough odd jobs to pay the bills. He knows that he's only got a year left in the Frontier League — the age cap looms — but he still wants to play for another year or two, and he's not sure if he'll ever really hang up his cleats. For now, he says, he's just living day to day.

The boy, squirming in what looks like a nightshirt on his larval frame, grabs his grandma's hand and starts walking back up to the concourse. He's got a dual expression on his face. First, the terror and uncertainty of having just interacted with a stranger. Second, the thrill of having just interacted with a celebrity.

His eyes look up at his grandma as if to brag: "I was just touched by the magic, mighty hand of a professional baseball player. "    

More by Sam Allard

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