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Tigers, MLB pledge financial support to minor-leaguers through early April

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Thousands of minor-league baseball players will continue to be paid their allowance through the original scheduled start of their seasons, in early April, Major League Baseball announced Thursday.

A day earlier, Tigers CEO Christopher Ilitch announced the team would pay the minor-leaguers who were in spring camp in Lakeland, Fla., the rest of their spring-training allowances.

Minor league players shut out of spring training camps will receive allowances from teams through April 8, and a plan is underway to compensate those players during the postponed portion of the regular season.

The Tigers said their decision was made "in keeping in line with our goal of supporting those hardest hit by cancellations and postponements."

The Tigers also have pledged $1 million to part-time staff at Comerica Park, where the Tigers were to open the season later this month, but now won't until mid-May at the earliest, because of the coronavirus outbreak. Ilitch Holdings, which also owns the Red Wings, previously committed $1 million to pay part-time workers at Little Caesars Arena, home of the Wings and Pistons, as well as Fox Theatre.

There are more than 5,000 minor-league players spread throughout 261 sanctioned franchises at a variety of levels, from rookie ball to Triple A.

The Tigers have minor-league affiliates in Toledo (Triple A), Erie, Pa. (Double A), Comstock Park and Lakeland (two teams; Single A and rookie ball), as well as Norwich, Conn. (short-season Single A).

MLB announced last week it would continue paying its major-league players their allowances.

On Thursday, it said its minor-league initiative covers all players not receiving funding elsewhere, such as a 40-man roster player receiving major-league allowance or a minor-leaguer who already has received pledged support from their parent franchise. The Los Angeles Dodgers were among the first teams to publicly say they'd continue paying minor-leaguers.

MLB said this plan extends through April 8, and then will be adjusted as necessary.

"MLB takes the community impact of this crisis seriously," the league said in a statement.

Amid the sports shutdown, there have been multiple grassroots initiatives to help minor-league players, including one started by The Athletic's Emily Waldon, a west Michigan native who already has secured pledges worth thousands of dollars. She also has been helping connect minor-league players with businesses looking to hire.

Michigan is home to three sanctioned minor-league outlets, all Single A: the West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers), Lansing Lugnuts (Toronto Blue Jays) and Midland's Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers).

Minor-league pay has been a hot-button topic this offseason. Many top draft picks can live on hefty signing bonuses, but beyond the early rounds, those players can struggle to make ends meet. Minor-leaguers are only paid in-season, meaning they only have five months of secured wages, but they are scheduled to get a raise in 2021, the Associated Press reported last month, from $290 to $400 a week for rookie or short-season players, all the way up to $502 to $700 a week for Triple-A players.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984