The Real Poop
You've been playing baseball since you were five years old. You don't remember why you started playing in the first place (you were only five, after all), but your parents probably had something to do with it. Everyone you knew played baseball as well—even the girl down the block, who had the meanest fastball you've ever seen.
You were pretty good too. Fast forward twelve or so years, and you're still good. Dad's saying you should go pro. Mom says do what makes you happy. Coach says you should think about college ball. Even your older brother's friend, Ryan, who plays at the collegiate level, thinks you have a shot.
So now you're thinking, why not become a professional baseball player? You must have a pretty good shot, right?
When someone says you have a shot at making it in baseball, what they're not telling you is the size of the target. Sure you have a shot. You can even take that shot if you want. After all, with an average professional take-home pay of three million dollars per year, why wouldn't you?
But you're trying to throw a fastball at a target the size of a penny from about eight miles away. This is one game you're not likely to win—no matter how many high school championship games you've won.
To begin with, there are roughly two million Little League players of all ages in the U.S. By the time they reach high school, about a quarter of them are still playing—that's nearly half of a million baseball players in the high school ranks (source). Of those, there are about 130,000 players in their senior year—which, by the way, makes them eligible for the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
But you don't want to jump the gun here. You want to play college ball—even your coach says you should play college ball, and he's best known for teaching kids to swing way too soon. So college ball it is—for you and about 25,000 other players. For those of you following along at home, that means around nineteen percent of high school senior players advance to the collegiate level.
To be a contender, you'd best be on an NCAA Division I team. Ain't nobody got time for the lower ranks here. You've got a lot of options in Division I—around 300 teams. At any given time, there are 10,000 players in the best colleges for baseball around the country.
And beyond college, finally, there's the draft. And do you know how many draft picks there are every year? A whole lot less than 10,000.
Even though the MLB draft is one of the largest in professional sports, in the end it doesn't really matter. The majority of first round picks (that's right, each team's número uno pick) never play an actual game in the major leagues during their first season. If you're drafted in the twenty-third round? Enjoy making minor league money in Toledo, Ohio or Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
If we're being really generous, you need to get drafted in the top three rounds—or develop unexpectedly well in the minors—to have a future in baseball. That means you need to be in the top hundred undrafted baseball players in the entire world on draft day.
And you thought that high school record for doubles in a season would propel you to superstardom?
So what does it take to become a baseball player? Unfortunately, more than talent, hard work, determination, or work ethic on their own. It takes luck, a willingness to work for a sub-poverty-level salary unless someone points a magic finger at you, or maybe a wealthy uncle high up in MLB who can pull strings...or prodigal talent the likes of which the baseball world hasn't seen since Babe Ruth totally hit a home run off a curveball that he himself pitched. Yeah.
If you love baseball and you don't want to stop playing, then do what makes you happy—but don't expect to make a big-time career out of it. And that's not a bad thing. Even Michael Jordan couldn't make it into anything more than a really expensive hobby.
Baseball can be a lot of fun to play, but it can be a lot more fun to watch (emphasis on "can be"—have you ever seen a baseball game? Some of them take forever). It probably won't lead to your forever job.
If you're really into baseball but lack the tenacity to really go for big leagues, maybe you're better off being a fan. Buy yourself some peanuts and crackerjacks and take yourself out to the ballgame—you won't care if you ever get back.