- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

Stoney Briggs is a grizzled baseball veteran who has never played a game in the major leagues. The 28-year-old is in his 10th season of professional baseball without reaching the big leagues. The outfielder has ventured to Mexico and South Korea to help him reach his ultimate goal. And he doesn't plan to give up his pursuit any time soon, even if getting there is starting to look like a pipe dream.

"There is no doubt I will make the major leagues," said Briggs, in the Detroit Tigers' system. "As long as I have this uniform on, I feel like it's any day now. If I wasn't playing here, I would play in a semi-pro league somewhere. I am going to play as long as I can. I am in no hurry to start working."

Briggs was in Bowie, Md., last night playing in the Class AA All-Star Game. He was one of the oldest players in the mix of rising prospects and experienced minor leaguers. Briggs may have been the most traveled guy at Prince George's Stadium, but his baseball odyssey is similar to many who have hit a glass ceiling below the majors.

They cling to dreams that fade a little more each season.

"You have to feel like you have a chance, even if you don't," said Dan Held, a 29-year-old first baseman who could not find a job in the minors last season and was forced to play in an independent league. "My views have changed over the years. It's almost like you have invested so much time in something. Are you going to keep going or give up?"

For many, giving up is not an acceptable option, no matter how wise that choice may seem. The only career they know is baseball. They often are high school superstars who go directly to the minors as teen-agers, passing up college baseball scholarships.

They move up steadily through the minor leagues before being shown the door. Many are given sizable signing bonuses, but then accept low salaries as the years go on. Class AA players earn about $3,000 a month for a six-month season. Many earn considerably less.

"It's no longer a dream," said Juan Thomas, 28, who is married and supporting five children. "It's now a necessity. You could call it a paper chase. I am looking to get paid for my family and me."

Thomas, a designated hitter in the Seattle Mariners' organization, actually quit the game after being released after six seasons in the Chicago White Sox system. The slugger had back surgery after the 1997 season and was cut the next spring.

"I actually told my wife, 'I'm done' ," said Thomas, 28, who could not find a job in the minors and settled for a spot in the independent Atlantic League. "She said, 'No you're not. You are not going to let them beat you.' I have a God-given gift to hit for power. I'm going to leave the game on my terms. I would be working 9-to-5 somewhere else if I didn't go to back and keep my dream alive."

Thomas, who is hitting .285 with 21 doubles and 16 homers for the New Haven Ravens this season, spent a season and part of another with independent Atlantic City before the Mariners gave him a second shot. He no longer looks at the major leagues as his only goal, and would be happy to play in Japan if the money is good.

Held has a similar story. He played six seasons in Philadelphia's chain and made it to the Class AAA team, one step below the majors, before being let go. No other minor league team offered him a position. He spent time playing in Taiwan last season before coming back home and playing for Lehigh Valley (Pa.) in the Atlantic League.

"I never considered giving it up," said Held, who is hitting .317 for the Binghamton Mets. "I think I can still play. I just couldn't find a job. I used to look at the big leagues and think what do I have to do to get there. I don't do that any more. I just play for that night."

Held has thought about his future and will consider retiring if his career takes another downturn. But he plans to stay in baseball as a coach or in another capacity.

Briggs, who is hitting .259 for the Jacksonville (Fla.) Suns, grew up in Delaware with Baltimore Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields. Several of DeShields' family members were in Bowie last night to watch Briggs. But in baseball terms, the two ballplayers are separated by millions of dollars.

"We talk all the time," said Briggs, who lives with his wife and two children in Randallstown, Md. "He says, 'You have a job and that's what it is all about.' If you have a job, you have a chance."

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