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Minor-league baseball: New Jersey players swing for the bigs

One-time major-league stars now playing in minor-league baseball look for a shot at redemption with New Jersey's Newark Bears.

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"They don't want to pay them, and I don't want to collect them," says Suskin, after the first group of players begrudgingly hands over untidy wads of crumpled bills. And though the whining from the players can be a bit much at times, Suskin is sympathetic. After all, it was less than a year ago that he was reporting to work in the Bush White House, where he worked for both the Presidential Advance Team and the Communications Office. Just like the former major league players adjusting to life in the Atlantic League, Suskin is making the best of his own wilderness.

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I ask him how he made the adjustment from briefings with the leader of the free world to this.

"The same as the players do," says Suskin, with a smile that's upbeat and hopeful.

For some, however, the transition can be a bit rough. As Suskin tends to his clipboard, ticking off the names of a group of players who just paid their dues, Scott Williamson bursts through the clubhouse doors. Even before he's asked to cough up his share, he looks angry. A Louisiana country boy with close-cropped blond hair, Williamson is even more out of place in Newark than the former Republican operative asking him for his money. As a new member of the team, this is the first time Williamson has had to endure the humiliation.

"How much is it?" he asks in a thick Southern accent.

"Seven dollars a day," says Suskin. "It's a three-game series, so that's $21."

Williamson rifles through a wad of bills while muttering a list of complaints under his breath.

Then, out loud: "Don't even get no food?... [B]rutal."

With that, Williamson slams the cash into Suskin's hand and storms off. As he disappears down the hall, it's easy to understand Williamson's anger. Ten years ago, as a relief pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds, he was named National League Rookie of the Year. Today, in a barnburner that saw eight different pitchers take the mound, he didn't even get to warm up.

"It's a difficult road," says Skeels, of these former MLB players trying to get back to the bigs. "Hoping that there's somebody out there that's watching and been paying attention, that there's somebody out there that'll value what you know you can still bring to the table."

A way back to glory

Skeels played independent ball himself, back in the mid-1990s, before he moved on to law school and a career as a prosecutor in southern California, and eventually to the front office of the Newark Bears.

"Back then," he says, "playing in an independent league was really a fall from grace for the guys who were up in the bigs. But today, guys recognize that it can really be a way back for them. Just like Tike. He's the story that keeps many players coming back to Newark. The idea that, 'I can get noticed again, and I can get back to the big leagues.' It's not an unfounded hope. That's why Scott's here. And though he may not be too happy right now, I think he's got a pretty good shot of getting back to the show."

Where they are now

  • TIKE REDMAN is at Milwaukee Brewers spring training, fighting for a spot on the big league team.
  • CARL EVERETT and RAMIRO MENDOZA are returning to the Newark Bears for the 2010 season.
  • SCOTT WILLIAMSON is weighing his options, and considering retiring from professional baseball.
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