By John Perrotto
PITTSBURGH -- Ed Lucas vividly remembers opening the envelope and pulling out the first paycheck of his professional baseball career back in the summer of 2004.
It was for $101 for one month of playing for the Kansas City Royals' Idaho Falls farm club in the rookie-level Pioneer League.
$101. For a month.
Not exactly A-Rod money.
"My actual salary was $810 for a month, but they deducted housing expenses," Lucas said. "I'm sitting there thinking it's cool that I'm getting paid to play to baseball, and I'm excited to be a professional baseball player, but then I started thinking, what would I do with $101 a month? How do you live on $101 a month? I think there is a misconception among many people outside the game that everyone makes a lot of money playing professional baseball. I wasn't."
Going to the bank is a better experience these days.
"It's a lot nicer to look at that check now," Lucas said with a smile. "I've come a long way."
Lucas certainly has. On May 29, the Miami Marlins selected the contract of the 31-year-old infielder from their Triple-A New Orleans farm club in the Pacific Coast League and he made his major-league debut a day later.
A player kicking around the minor leagues for 10 seasons before getting to the call to the majors is rare, though not unique. What sets Lucas apart is that he spent so many years in the minor league despite holding an Ivy League degree.
Lucas graduated from Dartmouth in 2004, after being the Ivy League Player of the Year that spring, and was drafted in the eighth round by the Kansas City Royals. Because he was a senior and did not have the leverage of returning to college for another year, Lucas received the standard $1,000 signing bonus given to players in that situation.
Without much of a bonus in the bank and receiving only a minor leaguer's salary, Lucas was forced to take a number of odd jobs in the offseasons. He worked construction, substitute taught, waited tables, bartended and worked as a temp for Charles Schwab.
While many of his classmates from Dartmouth had gone on to high-paying jobs, he was willing to keep working for minimum wage or something close to it. Lucas was never willing to give up the baseball dream, even though it seemed certain he could profit much more by using his degrees in sociology and economics.
"Playing baseball just kind of got ingrained into myself," Lucas said. "It's kind of cliché, but everybody playing professional baseball loves the game to a certain extent. I'm not saying it's always fun. It can be a grind playing in the minor leagues, even at Class AAA, after you've done it for a number of years. But at the end of the day, you're still playing baseball for a living. I was still getting paid to act like a goon in the clubhouse and to work with my friends and to play a game. Ultimately, I knew I was blessed, and it would be hard to give that up for anything in the outside world."
There were times, though, when Lucas did stop to reconsider his career choice.
In 2010, he hit .307 with 13 home runs in 99 games for the Kansas City Royals' Triple-A Omaha affiliate but didn't get called up. He became a minor league free agent after that season, signed with the Atlanta Braves and was a non-roster invitee during spring training in 2011, almost making the club to start the season. He proceeded to hit just .238 with 10 homers in a combined in123 games with Triple-A Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi.
"I really thought that might be the end of my career," Lucas said. "I'd had such a good spring and almost made the team, then I went down to Triple-A and forgot how to hit the ball. The more I pressed, the worse it got. When I got back home" -- Port Orange, Fla. -- "in the offseason, I looked back and thought that maybe that was my one shot, and I didn't take advantage. Not only did I have a bad year, but I didn't even give myself a chance."
Lucas had a better year in 2012 with Salt Lake, hitting .262 with 12 homers in 118 games for the Los Angeles Angels' top farm club; that led to his signing with Miami this past offseason. He was hitting .304 with five homers in 46 games at New Orleans when the rebuilding Marlins decided to give him a big-league opportunity.
The Zephyrs position players were running wind sprints and taking batting practice prior to their game when manager Ron Hassey gathered the team around to break the news of Lucas' promotion.
"I think a lot of the guys were aware of my situation," Lucas said. "That was a neat experience, the way Ron handled it. It made it a little more special."
Lucas' reaction wasn't something out of a movie script, however. "It was an odd emotion," he said. "It wasn't all-out jubilation. I wish I could say I had a tear in my eye, because it would make for a better story, but I didn't. It was kind of like I didn't know what to do. For so many years, you're kind of hoping it will happen and kind of half-expecting a call when you're doing well. After 10 years, though, you just put it out of your head and go about your daily routine."
Lucas called his fiancé Holly Meyers -- who is expecting the couple's first child in October -- and they flew from New Orleans to Miami, where the Marlins were playing the Tampa Bay Rays. Though he did not play in that game, he finally had a chance to soak everything in from the bench.
"I thinking, OK, even I get sent down after the game, or whatever else happens that is out of my control, I can look back at today and say I was in the major leagues," Lucas said. "When I'm 80 years old and somebody asks me what I did in my 20's and 30's, I could say that I played professional baseball and got to the major leagues, and that is a pretty good feeling."
Lucas enjoys the professional baseball life so much that he wants to remain in the game in a front office position once his playing career ends. He's had conversations with management types about his post-playing career, and part of his motivation to keep playing was to establish more contacts within the game.
Understandably, Lucas prefers to talk more about his playing career at this point. He has become the Marlins' regular third baseman, while also seeing action at the other three infield positions and left field.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond knows about difficult paths to the big leagues. He was not drafted out of Gonzaga University, yet he had a 13-year career in the majors as a backup catcher. Redmond appreciates Lucas' perseverance but is quick to point out that sentiment only goes so far.
"I admire what he's gone through, but I can't play someone just because he's a good story," Redmond said. "Ed has carved out a niche on this club. He has come up here and helped us. He's earned his playing time."
What type of career Lucas ends up having remains to be seen, but he had to laugh at the mention of the old baseball adage: "The easy part is getting to the major leagues, the tough part is staying there."
"I've always had to chuckle at that line," Lucas said with a grin. "I know they're right when they said it's hard to stay here but, believe me, if getting to the big leagues was easy, then it wouldn't have taken me 10 years to get here."
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John Perrotto has covered professional baseball since 1988 for such outlets as USA Today, The Sports Xchange, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and the Beaver County (Pa.) Times. You can find more of his work on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.