‘Step in the right direction’: Salem Red Sox manager praises MLB decision to cover minor leaguers’ housing costs

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SALEM, Va. (WFXR/AP) — The path to becoming a major league baseball player is expected to get a little easier next spring.

Beginning next season, Major League Baseball will begin covering housing costs for some minor league players. The move is expected to ease the burden on these athletes, especially those whose incomes are below the federal poverty line of $12,880 for individuals.

Salem Red Sox general manager Allen Lawrence is calling it “a step in the right direction”.

“I’m happy for the players. I think there’s been a lot on the news really in the last six months, 6-12 months, that these players are very deserving of higher pay and better accommodation,” Lawrence said Monday night after the Roanoke Valley Sports Club meeting in Salem.

Major League owners recently agreed to cover housing costs for some minor league players, though it’s not clear yet which ones would benefit from the policy.

“In mid-September, the owners discussed the issue of player housing and unanimously agreed to begin providing housing to certain minor league players,” MLB said in a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday night. “We are in the process of finalizing the details of that policy and expect it to be announced and in place for the 2022 season.”

For the Salem Red Sox, finding accommodation was a task left largely for the players to figure out on their own and on short notice.

“I will help them because a lot of these players are coming into the Roanoke Valley for the very first time ever and they don’t know where to live,” Lawrence said. “So I’ll help them out as far as that goes.”

The move comes as MLB raised minimum salaries across the board this past season. Players in Class A, which includes teams from Salem and Lynchburg, made at least $500 per week, an increase from $290.

While teams generally arrange for hotel accommodations for road trips, players have largely been left to find their own housing for homestands. The level of assistance provided by teams varies widely — lower-level affiliates sometimes arrange host families for younger players, and some organizations have offered housing stipends to some or all players. The Houston Astros are believed to have become the first team in baseball to provide furnished apartments to all players when they did so for the 2021 season.

But mostly, players are left to handle housing on their own, usually seeking short-term leases on little notice with a limited budget. It’s not uncommon for teammates to overcrowd apartments and sleep on air mattresses. One player and his girlfriend in 2019 even took the unusual step of living in a renovated school bus.

“MLB is engaged in a multi-year effort to modernize the minor league system and better assist players as they pursue their dreams of playing in the major leagues,” MLB’s statement also said. “In 2021, we increased the salaries for minor league players by 38-72% depending on level and significantly reduced travel requirements during the season. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of improvements to minor league ballparks around the country are already underway, including substantial renovations to player-facing facilities like locker rooms and training rooms.”

Lawrence said his team is lucky the Boston Red Sox were already providing stipends for his minor league players.

“Major League Baseball has come together and said let’s help everybody out,” Lawrence said. ‘I’m not sure whether that’s going to be in the form of a stipend or whether the housing is going to be fully furnished or provided for them but time will tell.”

For many, it’s a decision long overdue and could be a game-changer for the sport.

“I think it will give players an opportunity to play longer. Some of these guys maybe haven’t been financially able to afford it,” Lawrence said. “So maybe they’ve dropped out and who knows, we maybe have had some good players that would’ve been in the big leagues that just couldn’t financially afford it.”

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