Life in the Minors
For team hotels, location is important
Anyone who has played minor league baseball will tell you that playing the game at this level is all about establishing routines.
Routines help us create a pattern of daily existence so we can attempt to find some balance and normalcy in a world that is upside-down crazy at times.
With games played at all hours of the day and road trips through Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky, it is difficult to remember enough to figure out what time zone we're in and what state we just woke up in. For me, it's usually the state of confusion.
So just like any of the hundreds of other minor league baseball teams across the country, we try to establish routines. At home, we usually have the players show up about 5 hours before the game so they can go about their daily routines.
Pitchers always show up first, so they can do their prescribed conditioning routines, which include cardio work, a strength program, a throwing program and a daily shoulder and elbow maintenance routine.
After games, pitchers who got into the game that night go through a post-performance routine with our trainer to help keep their arms healthy. On many days every season, I also run the pitchers through defensive drills early in the day to give our hurlers practice in fielding ground balls and bunts, covering bases on plays, and throwing pickoffs to bases.
And then there are bullpen sessions for the pitchers. Starters have a set bullpen routine between starts, while relievers will do bullpen work as needed to remedy mechanical flaws or to keep sharp when they haven't been used in a few days.
Our position players have a batting practice routine they go through most every day. During B.P., fielders get their daily defensive work in, while hitting groups go about practicing bunts, hit-and-runs, and situational hitting.
Part of our daily routines also includes our time spent before and after games. For me, the only two things I try to get done each day before I head to the home stadium are get to the gym for an hour or two and pick up lunch. After games, I usually struggle to find a place I can get a decent meal to take home, as I often just want to get back to my apartment and set up shop at my laptop in front of the TV and relax.
Life on the road presents a whole other set of daily challenges. While our ballpark routines basically remain the same -- except that we get to report to the stadium later since the home team always takes batting practice first -- simple tasks such as getting stuff to eat and drink, and keeping ourselves occupied in our free time can be a little bit of a task.
On the road, we are nearly at the mercy of the location of the team hotel. On this leg of our current road trip, we are staying at the Red Roof Inn of Washington, Pa., where we are in town to face the Washington Wild Things.
While the Red Roof isn't exactly the Four Seasons, it gives us a place to sleep and cable TV with three movie channels. There is a smallish shopping mall across the highway, a Wendy's and a Denny's in front of the motel, a convenience store across the way and a McDonald's up the street, so the players are fed and entertained rather well here for our standards. Besides, the stadium is less than a mile away.
For the amenities offered by this hotel location, my roommate, our hitting coach Ronnie Deck, grades our Washington road trip a "B-plus." As Ronnie notes, the charge by the Red Roof for wireless Internet access has driven the grade down. Otherwise, considering the stadium and the clubhouse, he would grade it as an "A-minus."
Our road trip to play the Gateway Grizzlies received Ronnie's only "A-plus" grade of the season so far, with just two cities left to see. The hotel there had a TGI Friday's in the lobby, a convenience store across the street, a mall just over the interstate, and a number of other eateries nearby. And as Ronnie notes, there was free wireless Internet.
The clubhouse in Gateway was also first rate. Although the carpet had not yet been installed in their brand new clubhouse, they had a spacious, air-conditioned office for coaches, complete with satellite TV and a refrigerator full of an array of cold drinks. I, too, would give the Gateway experience an "A-plus," for this league.
One other visiting-team hotel in our league is a lot less accommodating, leaving us with few or no options for eating, especially after games. Whenever we head to this town, the bus driver has to take us a few miles up the road before and after games so we can eat somewhere, since the hotel is in the middle of nowhere.
Ronnie gives this city an "F-minus," mostly because they put us in another Red Roof there, and again, we have to pay for Internet access. Actually, Ronnie has upgraded his grade of this town to a "D-plus," since the coaches' office in the clubhouse is actually pretty decent and provides a refrigerator full of cold drinks for us.
Another team in our division received low ratings from Ronnie because, as he so eloquently stated, "We had to drive 45 minutes each way to and from the ballpark, the free wireless Internet offered by the hotel did not reach our room, and the coaches' office was the size of a shoebox."
I had to agree with his assessment on that one.
Being on the road makes life quite a bit more complicated than it is when I'm back home on Oahu during the offseason, but it's just a part of the deal. I guess it's a fair trade-off. Everyday life is more complicated, but then again, I'm getting paid to do something I truly love to do. After all these years, I guess life on the road has just become part of my routine.