A Long Way from the Big Leagues
Watching the Gateway Grizzlies play baseball makes for an inexpensive night out. Parking is free, and bleacher tickets cost $7. The Grizzlies’ ballpark, located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Sauget, Ill., also has its share of quirks. A hot tub sits in the outfield, and the concession stands sell a hamburger with the two halves of a Krispy Kreme doughnut serving as the bun.
Pitcher Andrew Aizenstadt ’11 at the Gateway Grizzlies ballpark, located in Sauget, Ill. Photos: Paul Nordmann
The Grizzlies play in the Frontier League, which has no affiliation with Major League Baseball. Players may dream of signing on with a major league team, but this is professional baseball far removed from the lights and glory of the Big Leagues, not to mention its comforts. For pitcher Andrew Aizenstadt ’11, the Grizzlies are the latest stop in his post- Babson baseball career. He has spent many a long bus ride heading to games, many a night sleeping in motels and hotels. “It’s definitely a different lifestyle,” he says. “It’s not for everyone.”
Still, Aizenstadt relishes the chance to spend his days playing baseball. “When you walk outside a clubhouse, and there are 7,000 people in the stands, and kids are asking for your autograph—this is what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’m glad I’m getting to do it.”
When Aizenstadt graduated from Babson, he wanted to see how far his pitching arm could take him. Because the college standout had missed almost his entire junior season due to injury, he still had one season of collegiate eligibility left, so he attended Virginia Tech for a year, playing for the university’s baseball team in spring 2012 while starting an MBA. Not chosen in that year’s Major League Baseball draft of amateur players, he then headed west to Wichita, Kan., to play for the Wingnuts, an unaffiliated professional team like the Grizzlies.
The summer in Wichita seemed to be going fine, but after six weeks with the Wingnuts, his manager called him in from the field. He had bad news. The Wingnuts were releasing him. “I understand,” Aizenstadt said, but his disappointment didn’t last long. Turns out his manager was pulling a prank. He actually had good news. “The Phillies picked you up,” the manager said, “so you’re all set.”
Aizenstadt was elated. “It was a feeling I’ll never forget,” he says. “It was the greatest day of my life.” He became just the fourth Beaver to sign with a major league organization. The rest of the 2012 season saw him playing for the Williamsport Crosscutters and then the Clearwater Threshers, two minor-league teams affiliated with the Phillies.
Fortune turned, however, the following spring. “I started pitching pretty bad toward the end of spring training,” says Aizenstadt, who started off 2013 with the Lakewood BlueClaws, another Phillies affiliate. “After a month, I wasn’t doing much better.” When the Phillies released him in June of that year, Aizenstadt wasn’t surprised. He immediately called his old manager in Wichita and was soon a Wingnut again. Then when the season ended, he flew to Australia to play with the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League, which is supported by Major League Baseball to grow the sport’s popularity on the continent. Throughout the winter, Aizenstadt traveled around Australia playing games.
That’s a lot of moves, a lot of ups and downs. “You just roll with it,” Aizenstadt says. Such an attitude is essential in baseball. “You learn not to take the losses so hard,” he says. “You need to have a short memory for the bad stuff and remember the good stuff.”
While Aizenstadt knows the odds are long, he remains hopeful that he can work his way back to a major league organization. “You just play the best you can,” he says. “You believe that if you pitch well enough, they’ll find you.” This season, he finds himself with yet another new team, having requested the Wingnuts trade him to a team that would allow him to start, as opposed to coming out of the bullpen in relief. The Wingnuts obliged, and now Aizenstadt is with the Grizzlies.
When he eventually steps away from the game, Aizenstadt hopes to return to school and finish the MBA he had started, and then find a job with regular hours that keeps him in one place. Until then, he’s savoring the crowds, the games, and the journey. “I love going to different places, seeing different people,” he says. “As long as I enjoy it, I’ll keep doing it.” —John Crawford