One of the non-pitchers is outfielder-first baseman Daniel Nava of the Red Sox. Boston famously signed him for a dollar after he spent some time with Chico in the Golden Baseball League in 2007. Nava is now in his third season with the Sox.
The Atlantic League may offer a small potential pathway to the majors. It is not the majors, and no one tries to pretend it is the majors.
The major league minimum salary this season is $480,000. The maximum an Atlantic League team can pay a player is $3,000 per month, in-season only, and “on my team, the average salary is around two grand a month,” Osborn said.
Meal money in the big leagues is about $100 a day. It is $18 in the Atlantic League.
Though it isn’t the majors, there are far worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching an Atlantic League game. The Blue Crabs’ stadium opened in 2008, the same year as Nationals Park. The $10 million facility seats 5,500 and the team draws an average of 3,300 per game. There’s plenty of parking, all of it free. Food and beverages are cheaper than the same at a big league game. And the cozy stadium puts spectators very close to the field.
The level of play, Osborn said, tends to vary. In general, he said, it compares favorably to Triple-A baseball — especially if you get experienced pitchers squaring off. Sometimes, more so later in the year when rosters have been picked over, the level is closer to Double-A.
“But it is very good baseball,” said Ron Karkovice, the Camden manager who spent 12 years catching for the White Sox. “If this league had been around when I was finished, I might have tried to play a little longer.”
Karkovice retired in 1997. The Atlantic League started a year later.
Bergmann, the former National, last pitched in the majors in 2010. His performance with Camden last season (0.81 ERA in 22 games) earned him a chance with Triple-A Colorado Springs. He was not invited to spring training, so this year he latched on with Sugar Land, located outside Houston and not far from Bergmann’s home in Austin, Texas.
He had a 0.32 ERA and 17 saves through his first 28 games of this season.
A starter during much of his time with the Nationals, Bergmann thinks he is a more complete and more mature pitcher now at age 31 and he’s willing to wait it out in the hopes someone notices.
“The independent leagues are really growing,” he said. “A lot of guys are healthy and want to stay in the game longer and this gives them the opportunity. People are finding they are not at the end and this can be a way to springboard yourself back into it.
“That’s what I’m doing. I feel I have plenty good enough stuff to pitch in the majors, not just the high minors. I still have my pitches. I still have the competitive edge.”