A BC grad couch-surfed his way through the minors. Now, he’s advocating so others don’t have to.

"These are men who need to be paid a livable wage."

Fans sit on the berm at McCoy Stadium as the PawSox take on Durham just hours after the Pawtucket Red Sox announced a planned move to Worcester, MA in Pawtucket, RI on Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.(Globe Photo/Joe Giblin)
McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox. –Joe Giblin / The Boston Globe

When Matt Paré was playing in the Giants organization, he vlogged about his experiences under the name “Homeless Minor Leaguer” – a moniker he says he hated, because it was too real. In his mid-twenties, the Boston College graduate couch-surfed, was a subject of research studies, and racked up credit card debt just to get by while chasing his dream.

Now, the native of Portland, Maine is working to ensure others don’t have to.

Paré, 29, is one of the co-founders of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, an organization introduced Friday that “strives to provide a collective voice for minor leaguers, to advocate on their behalf, and to educate the public about the struggles that the players face,” according to the group’s initial release.

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“We just romanticize this journey to the major leagues,” Paré said. “It’s all about the grind and these kids living their dream. It’s all rhetoric. We’ve got to change the way that we talk about these adults. These are men who need to be paid a livable wage.”

Paré’s co-founders are Garrett Broshuis, a former minor-leaguer who is now an attorney, Ty Kelly, who played for the Phillies and Mets and will represent Team Israel at the Olympics, long-time labor activist Bill Fletcher, player-turned-law student Raul Jacobson, Emmy-winning producer Lisa Raphael, and a current MLB player who is remaining anonymous.

The group’s first goal is a big one – with efforts including an online petition drive, Advocates for Minor Leaguers aims to double the wages of minor league players to a minimum of $15,000 per year.

Last season, average salaries ranged from $3,480 in rookie and short-season leagues to $10,040 in triple A ball – the last level before the major leagues. The federal poverty line for a single person in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. is $12,760.

Tyler Cyr, a 10th-round pick by the Giants in 2015, played for the team’s Triple-A Sacramento River Cats when they won a championship in 2019. He earned $8,216.58 for the season, after taxes.

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In contrast, players in the American Hockey League, hockey’s highest-level minor league, belong to a union, with minimum salaries of $50,000 for the 2019-20 season and per diems when traveling that are triple what is provided to minor league baseball players ($25 per day, before clubhouse dues that range from $9-$14.)

“What people say is, ‘Oh, I’ll do it for free.’ That’s the kid in them talking,” Paré said. “That’s not the adult. That’s not the person that has bills to pay. That’s not the one that has a wife and kids. And that’s the difference.

“We would all give up an arm and a leg to play professional baseball when we’re kids, because we don’t understand everything that goes into being an adult.”

Baseball’s meager minor league wages are protected by law – the “Save America’s Pastime Act” that holds players exempt from federal minimum wage laws was included on page 1,967 of a $1.3 trillion spending bill that was signed in March 2018. A lawsuit, led by Broshuis, is ongoing.

By nature, the goal to raise salaries leads to another of Paré’s hopes for the group – education, which would in turn lead to interest and activism from even the most casual baseball fans.

“When you ask people to give a number of how much they think minor leaguers get paid, they’re like, ‘$30,000,’ and they’re way off,” Paré said. “It’s not their fault. It’s just what you would think is the standard for an elite athlete.”

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Paré knew what he was getting himself into when he decided to pursue professional baseball rather than accept an offer to attend graduate school at Boston University, after earning a degree in applied psychology and human development from Boston College. His family had hosted Portland Sea Dogs players in the past, and when he was 16, Paré was asked to be the team’s bullpen catcher.

He was drafted by the Astros in the 26th round in 2009, but chose to play at BC. In 2013, he signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent. He started a blog about his experiences, later pivoting to video on his YouTube channel that still exists today.

Original Homeless Minor Leaguer videos ranged from comedic sketches to raw monologues, where Paré detailed what he and his teammates did to make money in the offseason (drive for ride-sharing services, substitute teach, participate in research studies for shampoo and hamburgers) or a day in the life (one of which included 12 hours at the ballpark).

Through his five seasons in the minors, where he reached the Class A-Advanced San Jose Giants, Paré maintained that the money didn’t bother him, and that he was lucky to be playing baseball. Two years after retiring, he’s open about why there’s a lack of acknowledgement – and why it necessitates the need for a group like Advocates for Minor Leaguers.

“There’s a complete element of fear,” Paré said. “20 years of my life had been spent in organized baseball, trying to get to the major leagues. And for me to explicitly say, ‘Hey, minor leaguers should be paid more,’ that’s putting my whole career on the line. If you’re a lone individual saying that, it’s really hard.”

The non-profit aims to be a source for players, who can join confidentially for free. Non-players are encouraged to join as supporting members, and future volunteer opportunities, including a petition drive, are planned.

“We just want to provide a voice [for players],” Paré said. “They’ve been silenced for so long.”

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