That rare off day can be wonderfully refreshing


POSTED: Sunday, August 16, 2009

There really is no looking forward to a 10-hour bus ride. Sure we watch DVDs, and the guys get a chance to hang out and get to know each other a little better, but really, nobody enjoys the bus rides.

More than anything, we just learn to tolerate them, and make the best of the situation. Over the years, I've learned to pack and plan to keep myself entertained and fed on the many rides we take, crisscrossing the nation by bus.

Nowadays, I always prep for the long trips by loading a bunch of movies and music onto my iPhone. I also try to remember to charge up my Sony PSP, Bluetooth stereo headset and my external battery charger. I also pack an extra bag full of bottled water and snacks.

Considering the team bus is always kept at sub-arctic temperatures, I also make sure I bring a fleece jacket and sweat pants, and my pillow and blanket, to help me get some sleep on our long journeys.

A large part of the transition from college or high school ball to pro ball is learning to play tired. In our league, we have three-game series. So on a typical schedule, we play a night game at home, and then shower and pack up the bus and hit the road for an overnight bus ride that usually gets us into our next city near the crack of dawn.

After checking into the visiting team hotel in that town, we get a couple of hours of sleep, wake up and grab some lunch and then head to the field in the early afternoon for our pregame work and batting practice, with game time usually scheduled for 7 p.m.

The night before the second game of the series is usually our shot to get a decent night's sleep. After the third game, we pack up and hit the road again for our next destination and start the cycle all over again.

The ability to sleep on the bus is ideal, but uncommon. Most guys may doze in and out of sleep for a couple of hours, others struggle to get comfortable and just stay up and play cards, or watch DVDs on their laptops, or talk or text on the phone to friends and family back home. Mastering the art of sleeping on demand is a skill I have never perfected, and long bus trips can hit me hard at times. But I cope.

This season, we have 48 road games during our Frontier League season, most of which require bus rides of anywhere from 2 1/2 to 11 hours in length. In other leagues I've played or coached in, I've had bus rides as long as 15 hours a crack.

For our most recent trip to Avon, Ohio, we knew that we would be spending close to 10 hours aboard our team bus. Lucky for us, our trip up north from southern Illinois would come on an off day, so we would get some decent sleep the night before our series opener against the Lake Erie Crushers.

But still, our midnight departure after our home series finale against the Rockford Riverhawks meant a 10:30 a.m. arrival in Ohio. This trip was harder on me than most. For some reason, I could not find a way to get comfortable. I placed my pillow up under the window near my seat like I usually do, and got tucked under my blanket and laid out on my back across my seat, with my legs extended across the aisle so I could rest my feet on the seat opposite me like I always do.

But sleep was hard to come by, and when we arrived at our Holiday Inn, I was absolutely gassed. So I dragged myself and my stuff off the bus, grabbed my suitcase from under the bus, grabbed my room key, and lumbered to the elevator and up to the fifth floor to my room.

Just before I hit the sack for a nap, I saw a placard next to the hotel phone that advertised a room service menu. All of a sudden I knew my day would be better. I love room service, and on a rare off day, with heavy rains expected in the area that evening, I made it my goal to spend the whole day in my room to relax. And with a bacon cheeseburger with sauteed mushrooms and fries for lunch from room service, and a Pizza Hut order for dinner, and two channels of free HBO, I was a very happy camper.

A rare day for a minor league pitching coach, a day to myself, a day to do absolutely nothing, and a day without having to take care of our 12-man pitching staff and their pitch counts, and mechanics, and opponent scouting charts, and all that stuff.

It was just the break I needed to recharge my battery for the next week of baseball. We have a bunch of road trips before we end our regular season in September, and there will be lots of long nights on the bus. We'll win some, and we'll lose some. Hopefully, once in a while, there'll be room service again.


Brendan Sagara, who played baseball for Leilehua and Hawaii-Hilo, is pitching coach for the Southern Illinois Miners.