Life in the Minors
Thunderbolts pull season out of the toilet
Sitting in our home dugout at Hawk Ford Field last night, it really felt like an eternity since we last won a game.
Over the first seven of our young season, the Windy City Thunderbolts had gone 6-1, good for the top spot in the Frontier League's Central Division. In the process, our offense had put up some pretty impressive numbers, scoring 52 runs in those games to average nearly 7 1/2 runs per contest and posting a team batting average near .400.
On Wednesday, a good pitching performance by the Kalamazoo Kings' starter brought our offensive juggernaut to a screeching halt. In addition to being shut down at the plate, we also committed several defensive errors, both physical and mental, and frankly looked pretty bad in absorbing our second loss of the year, 6-0.
After an effort like that, I could not wait to get back to the ballpark the next day to get back at it.
Mother Nature had other plans. With a Midwest downpour soaking our tarp covered field at about 3 p.m., it quickly became clear that the first pitch would not be coming at the scheduled 7:05 start time.
In an effort to kill time until a new start time was announced and keep my mind off of our poor performance the night before, I threw in a DVD in our office and watched "The Departed," with our hitting coach Ronnie Deck and our team clubbie Tim.
We finally got under way at about 8 p.m., after the clouds parted and our grounds crew did their duty, we were back in business. Unfortunately, we were not quite ready to break out of our funk.
As the innings came and went, we continued to sputter at the plate while the Beach Bums ripped out hit after hit. As I sat in the dugout next to our manager Andy Haines during the middle innings, I truly began to feel as though it had been a while since we raced out to one of the best marks in the league. Of course it had only been two days since our most recent win, but for an instant, the sweet taste of victory seemed like a faint memory.
In an attempt to keep things in perspective, I thought back to my drive out to the Chicago area prior to the start of our spring training with my buddy Darryl Arata. Like our offensive cold streak, the long drive from Sacramento, Calif., to Crestwood, Ill., seemed at times like it would never end.
Unlike the Thunderbolts' little scoring drought, our two-man road trip was actually packed full of some pretty funny moments. Mapping out our route east, Darryl and I chose to take the I-80 for the vast majority of the trip. We planned out three overnight stops, at Wendover, Nev., Cheyenne, Wyo., and Des Moines, Iowa.
While we were able to stay on schedule throughout our trip, we did have a few little setbacks. Day one was a success for us, as we made our way from northern California all the way to the Nevada-Utah border, and Wendover, where we stayed at a little casino hotel.
That night, we checked the weather report on Darryl's Palm Treo PDA/cell phone device and discovered that a bad weather cell was just behind us. Knowing this, we got up and got going quickly the next morning, in an attempt to reach Cheyenne before the probable thunderstorms hit the area. We kept our bathroom breaks brief and stopped only for lunch at Subway and hauled butt. Shortly after nightfall, we reached destination number two.
We stayed in Cheyenne mainly because we had a place to stay for the night. One of my girlfriend's closest friends lives in Cheyenne with her husband, who is a lawyer for the Navy in Wyoming. They were still in Hawaii on vacation, but were gracious enough to let me and Darryl crash there for a night. Our stay at their home was a welcome treat for us as we had just spent 16 hours in a Honda Civic over the past two days.
A good hot shower, cable TV, high speed Internet and a real bed in a home was just what I needed. Once again, we were quick to check the weather report in the morning, and sure enough, the storm was still chasing us.
As we scrambled around to get ready and pack the car up again, it seemed like we would clear town just before the heavy rains were due to hit. But before we took off, I had one last piece of business to take care of that had to be settled in the bathroom. Unfortunately, the transaction hit a pretty big snag. Let me just say that a plunging device suddenly became very necessary.
After searching the house for about 15 minutes, it was apparent that our hosts did not own a plunger, so I proceeded with plan B, which involved the attempt to use the toilet bowl scrubber to somehow move the clogged toilet paper away from the flush way. That didn't work.
Then it was plan C, which meant waiting for the water to subside and attempt to power the clogged chute open via flush power -- again, a complete failure. At this point, time really became an issue. It was now near noon, and the thunderstorms were scheduled to hit sometime between noon and 3 p.m.
So we had to follow plan D, which was to drive around Cheyenne hoping to find a hardware store. Being, well, men, we tried to just drive around and find it ourselves. After all, we were just off the main drag in town, so we figured we'd come across something. We ended up having to stop at a gas station to ask for directions, and we were directed to the hardware store on the west end of town.
The clerk at the store was pretty funny.
"And here's your operating permit," he said as he handed me my receipt. So we raced back to the house and took care of business. Now, about two hours behind schedule, we were very happy to get back on the road. Just as I was completing my note to our hosts, explaining why they now had a brand new plunger sitting in their bathroom, they walked in through the front door.
So we got to talk story and hang out for a little bit, but soon we were back on the I-80. Other than a blown tire somewhere in Nebraska and the pressure of trying to race a storm for four days, the drive progressed rather smoothly for us, and of course, eventually, we got here.
And like our road trip ordeal, the Thunderbolts' offensive funk ended eventually, too. We came back to score four runs over the last three innings to get back to our winning ways, and extend our lead in our division race.
I guess much like that clogged toilet in Cheyenne, our ballclub just needed a good plunge and a flush.
Brendan Sagara, a former University of Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is the pitching coach for the Windy City Thunderbolts.