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


The payroll of the New York Yankees.


The payroll of the Lake Erie Crushers.


That's the 2013 minimum salary required by Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement. The average salary is much higher, of course. The league's top contracts (A-Rod's $29 million-per-year, for instance) belong to that outerspatial stratum of moneymaking that provokes in Midwestern mothers a familiar distress at the state of the world's priorities.

"I don't care who you are," your mom has said. "No one deserves that much money. They're playing a kid's game!"

For absolute clarity, the lowest-paid players in the majors — players so nebbish or obscure that even diehard fantasy commissioners haven't heard of them — make precisely seven times more than the entirety of the Crushers' roster every year.

"There are 25 guys on the team," says Crushers' managing member Steven Edelson. "You do the math."

Don't mind if we do, Steve.


That's the price of your standard ticket for a game at All-Pro Freight Stadium, out in Avon, home of the Crushers since their inaugural season in 2009. That year, the Crushers won the Frontier League Championship and established themselves as a staple of summertime family entertainment in Cleveland's western suburbs.

For only $14, by the way, you're guaranteed a spot  in the first two rows.  But bear in mind that All-Pro Freight Stadium isn't Progressive Field. Even the worst seat in the house gets what you'd call an intimate view.

You see the lonely red-brick walls to your right as you take I-90 toward the toll road and points west. You see that play-place on the hump of grass beyond the right-field fence that corroborates the franchise's commitment to family friendliness and asserts an almost Wonka-esque architectural ambition. You see the vertical nets most of us associate with driving ranges.

Even if you haven't been to a game, you may have experienced one of those baffling moments when you confuse the merchandise or literature of Cleveland's assorted minor-league clubs — the Lake County Captains, the Lake Erie Monsters, the Lake Erie Crushers — but you probably don't follow the Frontier League, to which it belongs, with anything resembling fanaticism. Once or twice you may have  wondered which Major League club the Crushers farm into. Maybe.

That answer: N/A.  

The Crushers play independent ball. That means unaffiliated. That means it's not, strictly speaking, a stepping stone. It's a team stocked with boys who didn't get drafted out of college or who got cut from Double-A or Single-A or rookie leagues and were scanning the Corn Belt's horizon for a diamond upon which to land.

So they ended up in Avon, a 'burb that colors and characterizes All-Pro Freight Stadium more than the other way around. Out here, on Cleveland's western frontier, even the athletic facilities sit on cul-de-sacs. The streets are named according to relevant themes.

It's not Carnegie and Ontario, folks. The Crushers' play their brand of professional baseball at the corner of Sports and Recreation.

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