Jeffrey Passantino spent his minor league baseball season living out of a suitcase.
In a span of three months, he moved from Arizona to Indiana to Oregon and, finally, back to Indiana.
“One side is dirty, one side is clean,” he said of the makeshift dresser on wheels.
His former Lipscomb teammates Brady Puckett and Lee Solomon had more stable living situations, at least by minor league standards.
Puckett was with the Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers for one month before he was promoted to the Jupiter (Fla.) Hammerheads, while Solomon headed west to Peoria, Arizona, after being selected by the San Diego Padres in June’s MLB Amateur Draft.
“There are no complaints whatsoever,” Puckett said. “It was really hot [in Florida], and I sweated through like three shirts every day, but I had a good time.”
All three players had standout seasons and are now one step closer to becoming Lipscomb’s next crop of talent to reach the big leagues – a group that includes Caleb Joseph, Rex Brothers and Josh Smith.
Cheap hotels, long bus rides and fast-food meals aside, each of the former Bisons said they are thrilled to be chasing a dream that so few are afforded.
“It’s hard to beat,” Solomon said of minor league life. “Our manager is always reminding us that we’re making money by hitting batting practice and taking ground balls instead of living in an office.”
Passantino logged the most miles of the trio this season. He began the year in the Chicago Cubs’ extended Spring Training, but he was added to the Class-A South Bend Cubs for 10 days in June.
He was then shipped to Eugene and earned Northwest League All-star honors. Passantino spent the final month of the season back in South Bend, where he hopped from couch to couch and got rides to the field from teammates.
“The second time I went to South Bend, housing was hard to find because everyone was going back to Notre Dame,” he said. “I asked my buddies, ‘Hey, do you care if I just sleep on your couch?’ It was a true minor league grind.”
He finished the season with a 9-1 record and a 3.34 ERA in 16 games, half of which were as a starter. He also struck out 76 hitters in 72.2 innings pitched.
“I’ve always kind of had this chip on my shoulder,” Passantino said. “Being a 5-10 guy and not throwing the ball 97 miles per hour, I feel like I have to go out there and prove myself every single time.”
Puckett arguably had the best season of any former Bison. Despite a midsummer injury, the right-hander made 21 starts and posted a 2.56 ERA in 126.2 innings pitched. The once-lanky hurler has also continued to fill out his 6-foot-8 frame.
“Lee said I look like I put on a little weight,” Puckett said. “I hope it’s good weight.”
He recently took part in the Marlins’ fall instructional league and could see time in Double-A next season.
“[It’s a] wait and see kind of thing,” Puckett said. “I was in High-A for a while. Hopefully I’ll start [the season] in Double-A, but if not, I’ll just work my way up and keep grinding.”
Despite being a 25th-round draft pick, Solomon proved to be an asset for the Padres. He hit .298 in 41 games and also had seven home runs and 30 RBIs.
The Ohio native showed his versatility by playing first base, second base, third base and right field for the Padres. He went on a tear at the plate in late July and early August and was named MVP of his Arizona League team.
“I was going through a little rut early on and our hitting coach was just saying ‘go up there and think that you’re going to get a hit,’” Solomon said. “After I flipped my mindset, I was able to settle in and get comfortable.”
Passantino, Puckett and Solomon are just three of Lipscomb’s nine former players currently playing pro baseball. Michael Gigliotti, a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Royals in 2017, also appeared to be primed for a strong performance this season before an ACL injury derailed those plans. He is expected to make a full recovery for 2019.
“To be pros with those guys is something that’s so surreal and so special,” Solomon said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them this offseason and catching up.”
Puckett and Solomon have spent the offseason living in Nashville and working out at Lipscomb, while Passantino returned to his home in Fort Myers. No matter where they are, the ex-teammates make it a point to keep up with each other.
“Me, Brady and Lee are best friends,” Passantino said. “We’re in a group text with each other and talk almost every day. If we don’t talk for a day, it’s kind of weird.”
All three players could take the next step in their careers by performing well in Spring Training, which opens in mid-February. It’s not a glamorous existence, but there’s an end goal in mind for these former Bisons.
“All for the dream,” Passantino said. “It’s all worth it.”