By Rob Rains
Anthony Shew was sitting across the kitchen table from his wife Kayla a few days after the Cardinals sent all of their minor leaguers home from spring training because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I genuinely was worried,” Shew said. “We didn’t really know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if we were still going to be paid. We didn’t know if we would be home for a week and then go back and everything would be fine.”
That worry soon led into a serious conversation between Shew and his wife, who was completing her student-teaching requirement to get a teaching certificate at their home in Bullhead City, Ariz.
“We stared at each other across the table and said, ‘Do we know if we are going to be able to pay for groceries this week?’” Shew remembered.
It was at that point that Shew, a starting pitcher at Memphis last year until surgery ended his season in June, remembered a conversation with a teammate about an organization he saw mentioned on Twitter – Adopt a Minor Leaguer.
The non-profit organization, Shew soon discovered, had been created just a few weeks earlier by Michael Rivers – before the pandemic hit – as a way to connect minor-leaguers with sponsors willing to help them financially. The basic concept was similar to the host family programs which exist in a lot of minor league cities, only this program was designed to give players about $150 of support each month from a sponsor instead of a host family providing a place for that player to live.
Shew signed up and was quickly connected to a sponsor.
“My immediate need was for somebody to pay my grocery bill,” Shew said.
Once that need was met, Shew said his wheels “began to spin.” A web developer with five years of experience – Shew’s side job when he wasn’t pitching – he connected with Rivers and offered to create a website for the organization. That project turned into a day-by-day increase in responsibility and Shew now estimates he is handling about one-third of the company’s business.
To date, close to 500 minor-league players have signed up to receive the financial assistance and Shew estimates Adopt a Minor Leaguer has about 100 additional sponsors signed up who are waiting to be matched with a minor-leaguer.
The agency also is getting financial help from private companies, including OrvilleAndrew.com, which makes candles. That company is owned by another Cardinals’ prospect, left-handed pitcher Patrick Dayton, and his brother Glenn.
The company donates 20 percent of each sale to the Adopt a Minor Leaguer organization.
“We’re not a huge business but we’ve been able to raise a good amount of money, which I am very pleased with,” Dayton said. “I know they are allocating it to the right players and making sure those minor leaguers are able to support their dreams.”
Through their own experiences, both Shew and Dayton, who likely would have been playing in Springfield this season, have witnessed the financial struggles of minor league players – even when they are being paid during a season and are not in the middle of a pandemic.
That’s why both were eager to get involved with Adopt A Minor Leaguer.
“Players are trying to fulfill a dream but at the same time it’s very difficult to do so if you don’t have the financial means,” Dayton said.
Said Shew, “It’s well documented that we don’t get paid that much. I’m not really a money-hungry guy but from my perspective I’d like to be paid enough that I don’t feel like I am sacrificing my performance on the field.
“I’m a professional athlete but yet I have to skip meals and can’t sleep on a mattress. Every year we sleep on air beds most of the time. As much as those don’t sound like major things that go on, I have a genuine concern that that affects my performance on the field. Just general money-trouble by itself is stressful.
“Anything that can affect the way your mind is working can affect the way your body is working. … Getting to help players through Adopt A Minor Leaguer, I feel like I can help guys play better. That’s really my motivation for trying to get the $150 for those guys every month.”
How the program works
On the website created by Shew, adoptaminorleaguer.com, there is a form for interested players to sign up for assistance. There also is a form for interested sponsors to sign up, indicating the organization they would like to help support. Shew and Rivers then take that information and try to find a match.
“We try to keep the guys pretty anonymous,” Shew said. “The worry for a lot of guys that I have heard is that they might come under fire from their parent club for accepting help from a fan basically and that it could be a threat to their career. Once we match a player with a sponsor then they privately figure out the type of aid the player is going to receive.
“We ask the sponsor to be responsible for about $150 of aid a month. It can be packages of food or other types of goods the player might need. It can be cash, or as in my case a grocery bill … whatever the sponsor can provide that a player needs. We are just kind of a matchmaker service.”
Shew hears back from the players, and sponsors, about the relationships that develop between the two – again, similiar to what happens with a host family and a player.
“The relationship becomes a one-on-one connection,” Shew said. “It’s not just a fan and a player. It’s someone who has the means to help someone that has a deep need. It stops being about a baseball relationship and starts being a personal relationship.”
Shew knows the need for financial assistance for minor leaguers is not going to end anytime soon, especially as more players are released because of the shutdown of minor-league baseball, and the knowledge that there will most likely be fewer minor-league teams next season and in the future. Shew said most times even after a player has been released the sponsor wants to continue to offer the financial aid as long as the player needs it.
“People who don’t normally talk about minor leaguers are now talking about minor-leaguers being used as pawns in the labor negotiations,” Shew said. “It has brought to light a little bit of what goes on, especially at the lower levels.
“The need is going to be there as long as minor-league baseball stays the way it is. We want to help minor leaguers get taken care of. We can help them do that. It’s something I personally have experienced. My goal is to be in the major leagues and I don’t want to forget a lot of the guys (in the minors) who aren’t getting what they should get or what they deserve. I was in that place. If I can do something to help those guys it’s something I want to keep doing.”
In addition to the one-on-one sponorships for players, Adopt A Minor Leaguer also is starting to receive larger grants and support from corporate donors, such as Dayton’s OrvilleAndrew candle company.
“A cause I’m fully sold on”
Dayton, selected by the Cardinals in the 25th round of the 2017 draft out of Kent State University, said he and his brother Glenn formed OrvilleAndrew two years ago. Glenn had been in Europe and when he returned to the U.S. realized he could not find many of the fragrances he had enjoyed there.
“So we decided to replicate them ourselves,” Dayton said. “We thought they were good enough to share them with everyone else. It’s been a passion project that grew into a business idea and we’ve gone on from there.
“It’s just me and my brother. I handle the social media aspect of the business and my brother does the development. We produce all of the candles on our own and do all the marketing. We are trying to fine-tune our skills and abilities.”
The company recently began a partnership with LetterPress Chocolate and has its own chocolate candle line. Once the economy returns to normal, the plan is for the company – which operates now mostly through online sales – to begin expanding into retail spaces and grow the business in that direction.
When Shew approached Dayton about donating a percentage of the company’s sales to Adopt A Minor Leaguer, he quickly said yes.
“It’s a cause I’m fully sold on,” Dayton said. “It’s a great opportunity. We’re not a huge business, but we’ve been able to raise a good amount of money. It’s good to support what you believe in. It helps us stay motivated to bring in more sales so we can support more minor-league players.”
Shew said Adopt A Minor Leaguer is working toward adding more corporate relationships such as the one with OrvilleAndrew. A catcher in the Twins’ system, Kyle Schmidt, is a freelance photographer and donates a portion of sales of his photographs to the organization.
“We are in talks with a few more,” Shew said. “Two players that we are talking to have companies and we are trying to get them on board. We are also talking to two or three baseball companies that we are hoping will sign up.”
Shew’s work with Adopt A Minor Leaguer is part of another company, In the Zone Development, where he is working with a pitchr in the Twins farm system, Mitch Horacek, on creating and developing websites for small businesses.
“I’ve been doing it the whole time I’ve been playing,” Shew said. “I was a solo freelancer until a couple of weeks ago, when I hooked up with Mitch. I’m not very good at being a salesman, but that is his strength. I’m good at programming. We fill in each other’s gaps.”
Wanting to play baseball
As successful as both Shew and Dayton have been in their businesses, both are ready to put those ventures on hold and get back to what they really want to do – play baseball.
“My wife is probably sick of me saying, ‘I wish we could go play,’” Shew said. “Whenever we can get back I will be excited.”
Shew has been able to throw with a fellow minor-leaguer from the Rangers organization who lives nearby. Dayton, who has moved to Los Angeles, also is close to other players he can train with – but he doesn’t really know what he is training for at the moment.
“Baseball is in limbo,” he said. “I’m staying ready, but it’s difficult to plan how hard I should be taking it and how to pace myself. I don’t know if there is going to be a season at all.”
Shew wants to get back on the field to prove that he is healthy after getting hit by a line drive last year that led to surgery, transplanting a nerve from one side of his elbow to the other.
Until baseball gets back on the field, however, both Shew and Dayton are happy they have found a way to contribute and give something back to the game.
“The way people have responded and want to give back and support us and minor leaguers has been very encouraging,” Dayton said. “It’s nice to hear kind words and see real results.”
Shew also has vowed to continue his work with Adopt A Minor Leaguer.
“It takes a true baseball fan to agree that minor leaguers deserve more than they are getting and that they want to do something about it,” Shew said. “I really feel like that extra $150 a month for those guys can be the difference between a guy skipping a meal or going to the grocery store and getting what he thinks he needs.
“In some small way I hope it helps him on the field. If that $150 makes the difference between buying an air bed or being able to sleep on a mattress, then that’s going to come out on the field. That really is my belief about what we are doing. At the end of the day it’s going to help guys on the field.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
For more information go to adoptaminorleaguer.com or orvilleandrew.com