Life in the Minors
The 16-hour, three-bus trip was worse than the loss it followed
AS THE SAYING GOES, when it rains, it pours. Well, for the Windy City Thunderbolts last week, it rained and poured and the bus broke down.
As I watched the final few outs of our 5-1 road loss at the hands of the Washington Wild Things from our dugout last Sunday, the only thing that gave me any kind of solace was the thought that it was the final day of a tough six-day road trip through Pennsylvania.
After sweeping a three-game series from the Slippery Rock Sliders and winning one of three from Washington, we were packing a 4-2 road trip onto the bus and taking it back home to Crestwood.
But first, we had to shower up, eat some dinner, pack all of our equipment back under the bus and then make the nearly 10-hour trip back home to Hawkinson Ford Field.
As we threw all of our charts, scouting reports and clothes into our travel bags, our manager, Andy Haines, hitting coach Ronnie Deck and I were unhappy losing two of three from the Wild Things at their park. After all, just a few days ago we took two of the three contests at home, and were hoping to repeat the feat on the road.
With a lead in the division race of nearly 10 games, it was hard to be too disappointed, though, as we inched a small step closer toward a possible postseason appearance. So after tossing our bags onto the bus, we made our way to the party deck at Consol Energy Park, where the Wild Things fed us, as is standard in our league on "get-away" day.
As I sat there munching on a cheeseburger and some steak fries, the sting from the loss to the Wild Things started to dull a little, and I actually looked forward to laying out on the bus and watching a few movies on the way home.
Soon, word had spread that our bus driver Lee Murphy was experiencing some technical difficulties with our bus. It turns out that the starter on the bus was no longer working, so it became apparent that we had an even longer evening of travel ahead of us.
With a broke-down bus and 10 hours of road to cover before our 5 p.m. game at home the next night, I was not too thrilled with the news. So we waited, and waited ... and waited some more, for an answer about how we were getting home.
After an hour or so, we were the only people at the stadium, as the entire game-day crew and most of the field crew had gone home. Most of our team gathered near one end of the platform and for about an hour and a half, a team-wide rag session was in full effect.
Being a coach, I'd rather not be around for that stuff, so I made myself scarce, calling my girlfriend and returning some calls to friends back home. There was non-stop laughter coming from that end of the party deck and I'm guessing some of that was due to an open beer tap down there.
About an hour and a half into our wait, Lee walked into the stadium from the parking lot where he was working on the bus to tell us that the team bus for Slippery Rock was making the 90-minute drive down to Washington to pick us up.
The catch was, that the bus would have to take us back to the bus depot in Slippery Rock where another driver would jump on board and then take us halfway to Crestwood, where we would have to switch buses again onto another motor coach from our bus company, Peoria Charters.
So again, we waited, and waited ... and waited some more.
Center fielder Rob Marconi, shortstop Wes Long, third baseman Josh Horn, first baseman Phil Hawke and outfielder Scott Billak played a little fungo golf. In fungo golf you pick out targets, such as billboards on the outfield fence, the scoreboard, and the backstop, and count the amount of swings it takes to hit your baseball off of the targets.
Meanwhile, left fielder Mike Coles realized he left his cell phone back on the party deck. The only problem was that a skunk had emerged and was making its way around the party deck.
So soon after the rest of us vacated the area, Mike and one our southpaws, John Gragg, began a scheme to outsmart the skunk and retrieve Coles' cell phone before it got sprayed with skunk juice. Now I admit I am not versed on the intelligence level of skunks, but for a while it did seem as though the skunk was winning the battle.
All I heard was Mike and John laughing a lot, the footsteps of a scurrying skunk, and stuff tumbling and flying all over the place. In the end, Mike got his phone back, and the skunk reclaimed his party deck.
About an hour after that, at about 2 a.m., our chariot finally arrived, so we all ran over and began unpacking our old bus, and packing our new bus. About 90 minutes later, we were trading drivers in Slippery Rock, beginning a 5-hour second leg of the trip toward Ohio.
At about 8:30 in the morning, we made it to the rendezvous point at a truck stop somewhere in Ohio. Once again, we all got off the bus and packed our stuff onto the new bus for the final leg of the trip. The packing took a little longer this time because we were all pretty groggy as you can imagine. Once we shook off the cobwebs a bit, we realized that the truck stop we were at sold Cinnabons, so a few of us ran into the store and loaded up.
As we all boarded our third and final bus of the trip, a few guys started grumbling about our little odyssey, prompting our backup catcher, Gavin Concepcion, to say, "Well, it only gets better from here."
We finally pulled into our stadium parking lot near noon, and there weren't too many rays of sunshine getting off of that bus. About 4 hours later, we were all back at the park to host the Traverse City Beach Bums, where it was hurry up and wait once again.
RIDING THE RAIN TRAIN
This time, instead of a broken bus, mother nature put our day on pause, as we sat through a 2-hour rain delay before we started the game, which of course, meant a lot more waiting around. As you can imagine, we didn't play well, losing 8-2 to open our four-game series.
But after a 9-hour bus trip that turned into a three-bus, 16-hour ordeal, a 2-hour rain delay, two losses and only a couple of hours of sleep on the bus, I was determined to get home to my air-conditioned room and the comfort of my bed. About 10 hours later, I was a brand-new man.
Every winter, when I start daydreaming about going back to work coaching minor league baseball, I seem to conveniently block out the little mishaps and not-so-little bus trips from my mind.
Maybe this year I'll dig up this story and remind myself how lucky I am to be able to be on Oahu, where my longest drive is only an hour.