He says he’s done it a million times. They don’t care. They throw half the food away anyway. We’d just walk in, eat quietly, leave a tip, and be gone before anyone raised an eyebrow. I look over at my other teammate—the one I can trust—his face confirms my gut: it’s wrong.
The mastermind picks up my bat and practices his golf swing.
I hate that.
He’s a tall, gawky, rehab guy that’s spent more time in the training room than on the mound this summer. His hat is midnight black and cardinal red, chilled from the indoor air conditioning, the rest of ours remain a tinted gray and pink from the days in the relenting August Florida sun. It’s the thick of the GCL season, the one league played on Spring Training backfields, with zero fans, zero shade, and first pitch is only when the sun is the highest. We’re not here to play; we’re here to survive and advance. Plus, it’s the only league with Rookie-ball stipends expected to live within the West Palm Beach streets of gold.
Just survive and advance.
“I go every morning after rehab,” he tells us, “they don’t care.”
We don’t believe that.
“Sometimes, I walk into the side door, walk up to the third floor, and take the elevator down to make it look like I just woke up.”
We definitely don’t believe that.
“Guys, try it this Sunday. It’s the best breakfast you’ll get.”
First-year players get paid $1,100 a month before taxes. Late-round college picks usually sign for a bonus less than $5,000, and after splitting capital gains with Uncle Sam and every college summer scrapping through scout-heavy summer leagues just to get here, their bank account usually doubles with every bi-weekly stipend.
Subtract clubhouse dues: Only $20 every paycheck in Rookie ball (For how hard the clubhouse managers work, they deserve more).
Subtract mandatory rent in the team hotel: $600 a month, taken directly from our pay stubs.
So, this brings us to roughly $400 a month after taxes.
$100 a week for food. Oh, and don’t forget the rule of ‘no cooking in the room’ making every meal cold cuts, pb&j, or bananas and protein shakes from the clubhouse.
We did the math all summer: Two meals a day were provided from the team, resulting in a necessary expense of 7 meals per week. $100/7= $14.29 a meal. We could find a healthy, plentiful dinner to recover from another draining day in 100-degree heat for $12-15. Perfect. We’d live meal to meal and get jobs in the off-season to pay for student loans lingering in our peripherals.
Survive and Advance.
But there was one variable our equation didn’t account for: Sunday.
Sunday is a scheduled off-day in the GCL. No game means no meals, so on Sunday, we had to pay for three full meals.
We are now two meals short.
Some lived on their bonuses. Some used mommy and daddy’s money. And the rest—myself and the rest of us without a trust fund—just had to make it work.
He swings the bat one more time, and I cringe considering his offer. This is not a gray area. This is black and white. Stealing is wrong, whether it be a restaurant, or a complimentary hotel omelet bar ‘for guests only’ as the sign clearly states, it’s wrong. He tells us about his omelets in the morning, grabbing a few pieces of fruit for the walk back to our own hotel, without a bit of moral regret.
He swings my bat—his golf club—again and says, “what other options do you have?”
I hate that.
My heart pounds walking up the hotel driveway.
Be cool. You stay in room 3412. No, that’s too obvious. You stay in room 3841. Just be cool. Room 3841. 3841. 38441. 3481. 3188. Act Natural.
(I am not being cool)
(I am not acting naturally)
The automatic doors open. We walk through the lobby. I keep my head glued to the ground, naturally. I see the receptionist in the corner of my eye.
Oh, no. She’s gonna know. No one walks into a hotel in the morning. Check-in isn’t for another five hours. She’s gonna know.
My shoulders tense. I look to my teammate. He swallows hard.
We weren’t afraid of getting in trouble with the hotel or even the Police. We were terrified the Cardinals would find out.
If the hotel catches us, they’ll tell us to go home. If they call the Police, the cops will tell us to go home.
But if they call the Cardinals, they’ll send us home.
She’s still there. She knows. Oh, God, she knows. Say, good to see you again. No, idiot. Say good morning like a regular person—a regular guest.
I open my mouth to speak, but I see her head remains tilted towards her desk. I don’t say anything. She doesn’t acknowledge us; we don’t acknowledge her. I lift my head. My heart slows.
She does know. But she doesn’t care.
It was an unspoken agreement. She knew exactly who we were and what we were doing. Just don’t make it a big deal. Just be cool. Act natural.
We walk into the breakfast area to see the mastermind sitting at a table for four, polishing off his second plate. All he was missing was a round cigar and a gold chain to be the El Chapo of breakfast meats. He chews and extends his arms.
We take a sigh of relief. El Chapo was right. No one cares. We get our omelets, fill our plates to the brim with fixings, scarf down enough to hold us over to dinner, leave a $2 tip, and leave.
It still doesn’t feel right.
Taking a free meal when offered? Of course. Maybe taking a few extra protein packets from the trainer’s room? Fine. But sneaking into another breakfast? No. Stealing was wrong. That’s what degenerates would do. That’s what criminals do. To a bunch of college-educated, Toms wearing middle-classers, crime was what we saw on the news. It wasn’t us. We swore an oath. Never would we go back there.
We went back the next week.
Then the next.
And then the next.
Plus, it’s not actually stealing. They don’t care. They throw half the food away anyway. It’s more of a gray area. We start telling others to come without a bit of moral regret. Survive and Advance, right?
We’d walk in, now in full conversation with each other, the receptionist’s head would remain low—renewing our unspoken agreement—we’d pick out a table closer to the sausage patties to make going up for seconds and thirds less of a hike, and debate if asking for a to-go box was ‘too far’. Some players even started attending a small church gathering in one of the rooms beyond the breakfast bar.
We were untouchable.
We were kings.
Then one day, our game ended. Sitting at our table, six players deep, four plates finished, we see a neighboring team of Latin players walk through the door. Somehow, word spread to the other organization that a free breakfast awaited just beyond a highway intersection. Cackling, laughing, echoing down the hall, we hear what sounded to be an entire roster of players enter before we see them.
The receptionist lifts her head.
They run through the breakfast room and clog the omelet bar.
The cook raises an eyebrow.
We leave our tip on the table and casually slide out the side door. We cross the highway back to the comfort of our own hotel, and at first, we cuss out the other team for ruining a good thing. How could someone be so rude, so loud, so inconsiderate when stealing something? How could they be so oblivious? Can you believe what they did? Now, we definitely can’t steal from that hotel again. How could they sleep at night?
Then, we looked in the mirror and realized it was time to find that needle in our moral compass that seems to be lost in a haystack.
We never went back to that hotel, never stole another egg again.
When I look back on Sundays in the GCL, I still find myself trying to make sense of it all. It’s hard to pass blame for my choice to steal. It’s even harder to think about skipping a meal as a professional baseball player because I couldn’t afford to eat.
The conversation always boils down to minor league salaries.
A Criminologist will tell you a low SES (even temporarily) would be the precursor to our crime, and rising salary will decrease omelet-theft. An economist will give you a statistical analysis on how minuscule the increase in minor league salary would affect the MLB’s bottom line. A lawyer will cite the Section 13(a) exception of the FLSA making the MiLB exempt from minimum wage laws. But for a true expert’s opinion? Just ask Embassy Suites.