From Italy to Cincinnati: My Minor League Journey
My journey began in 2017 when I signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds. I was born and raised in Italy where playing baseball at all is rare, much less signing a contract with an MLB team. The Reds bought me a plane ticket from Italy and I started my career playing in the Instructional League that September. I was speechless when I stepped in the box for the first time and the pitcher was throwing 100 mph, I’d never seen such a thing. My excitement was through the roof, along with the stress of proving that I could belong there.
My name is Leonardo Seminati. I’m a professional athlete and former minor leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds. My experience in the minor leagues started with a dream, and included many ups and downs, stresses, and economic struggles.
My dream is to be the second Italian-born player to make it to the Major Leagues after Alex Liddi of the Mariners. This drives me every day. While I had big dreams, the harsh realities of minor league baseball hit me quickly. After the offseason in 2018, I showed up to Arizona for my first spring training. The Reds sent me to extended spring training. For those who haven’t experienced extended, I spent two months working out, unpaid, in April and May in the scorching Arizona heat. After that, I ended up playing in the AZL. I still have nightmares from the heat and from the challenges I faced that year, but I learned how to face these challenges head on and deal with adversity. Finally, at the end of the 2018 season, I was sent to Billings, Montana, where our Rookie Ball team, the Billings Mustangs, were in the playoff race. I was so excited to get out of Arizona and play in front of fans.
The 2019 season wasn’t all that different from the previous year. I was confident I would start in Billings and work my way up. That year is when I really started working on my mental game. I wanted to have fun like when I was a kid, unlike the previous year where I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed right away. Everything fell in the right place, even with ups and downs. That year was my best year and an unforgettable time.
2020 was the year where the world stopped. Our season was canceled and we were all sent home. Teams had to make many hard decisions and released dozens of players. I was fortunate to make it through without being sent home. More Than Baseball provided support to help myself and other players through the challenges of 2020. They provided minor league players including myself with grant funds to support our training and living expenses during this time. I will always be thankful for their help. In October, 2020 I was lucky enough to be invited to the instructional league but the organization wasn’t the same. Many people had been let go, not only players but staff as well. The stress and tension in the alleys of the complex was palpable.
The following year, in 2021, a lot of things had changed. Even though I was able to break with a full season team for the first time, I was called in for a meeting with the staff during spring training. In that meeting, the team told me I was told that I wasn’t going to be a priority for the Reds. That was a hard hit to take. I felt like they never cared and, for the first time, I really started considering what my life would look like without baseball.
At the beginning of the 2021 season I was hit in the head and, after spending 2 weeks in the concussion protocol, the team told me I would remain on the Injured List even though I was healthy because they had filled my roster spot on the team. In my meeting earlier that spring, the team had promised me a roster spot that season, and here I was, sitting and watching my teammates play. For weeks, all they let me do was be a bat boy during the games. That was the most frustrating thing that I experienced in the minor leagues. I worked a lot with our mental coach to try to overcome these feelings, but oftentimes when I was laying down in bed at night I just wanted to go home. After some unfortunate injuries opened up a roster spot, I finally got back on the field. I even started playing well towards the end of the season. For most of the year, I would only play 1/2 times a week. As a baseball player, consistency is incredibly important to develop and perform at our peak. Not playing every day just added to the mental struggle I experienced throughout the whole season. Even with all the challenges, I felt I played a good season that year.
In the 2021 offseason, I got to work. I trained hard every day, investing in my body and in my baseball skills. I felt confident coming into Spring Training. Throughout that offseason I spent time working with More Than Baseball to help other players access the benefits of being involved with the organization. I helped gather and present feedback to the new minor league housing policy as well as lead meetings with fellow minor league players. And, when Spring Training rolled around, I was excited to show the Reds all the hard work I’d put in. By the end of camp, I felt like I was playing well and was ready to begin the season. However, the day that the rosters came out I got a call to come into the office. I was told that there was nothing bad, nothing to worry about.
I walked into the office and the farm director, the minor league coordinator, and the field coordinator were all in there. They welcomed me and they said that they had to make some hard decisions. Since they cared for me, they wanted to offer me a job as a coach. I didn’t really know what to say, my feelings were hurt. I called my agent, signed my release papers, and walked out. So much for the “there is nothing to worry about.”
I felt betrayed, I was angry, but I knew I didn’t have any regrets. I left everything I had between those lines. Regardless of what happened, I was at peace with myself. I felt like a weight was taken off my shoulders, all the stress, the concerns, the worry of trying too hard to impress somebody, make a team, and see other players playing in front of you every day without explanation was gone. I felt like I was able to get a breath of fresh air.
After I was released, More Than Baseball was once again by my side. I contacted them for help since I didn’t really know what to do and right away they put me in contact with people to help me plan my after baseball career. I made a decision to keep fighting for my dream. I want to keep playing because I feel like I still have a lot to give to this sport. And I still have my dream.
A special thanks to all the people that have and are supporting me through my career. And thank you to MTB for helping every minor leaguer in need, standing and fighting by their side for what’s right.