Brendan Sagara mug Life in the Minors

Brendan Sagara

Bus rides, unexpected pit
stops part of the game

IT'S FUNNY sometimes how humbling the game of baseball can be. Success in baseball is often measured in near misses and moral victories and even Hall of Famers record base hits in just three of every 10 at-bats.

And there are many variables that can add even more frustration to the game. I'm sure that anyone who has played at any level from Little League to the major leagues has heard about bad hops, the sun in their eyes, a wet playing surface or a bad call by the umpire. And then there are bleeders, bloopers and seeing-eye ground-ball hits to frustrate the heck out of many a pitcher.

But we all love this game we play, and realize just how fortunate we are to get paid real money to put on a uniform every day and play a boys' game as grown men for a "job," because the game is also very good. Winning streaks, game-winning homers with two out in the bottom of the ninth, closers blowing a two-strike heater by a hitter with two out and the bases loaded to put the finishing touches on a win, all provide reasons to rejoice.

Still, there are rainouts and rain delays, and in the minor leagues, there are bus rides. Crazy bus rides.

As we loaded the bus in the parking lot at Price Cutter Stadium in Ozark, Mo., on Wednesday night, we were all pretty excited. Tuesday was our last off day of the season, as we prepared to play 28 games over 27 days to close out the 2004 schedule and make a run at the Frontier League West Division crown.

Three and a half games behind the first place Rockford Riverhawks, we were in striking range, but needed to play well on this road trip to have a real shot. With three games in Kalamazoo, Mich., before heading over to take on the Riverhawks at their ballpark, this trip was obviously a big one.

The first leg of the trip had us making the 12-hour overnight bus trip to Kalamazoo. That the bus' VCR didn't work was the first hint that this wasn't going to be the best bus trip I had ever been on.

But there were many iPods and cell phones and CD players and portable DVD players and laptop computers to go around, to help us all cope with the boredom.

As we pulled onto the I-65, a couple of guys at the back of the bus asked if the air conditioning was on. The driver told them that the bus just needed a little time to cool down, since it had been sitting in the 90-plus degree heat of Missouri the whole day.

Well, 20 minutes into the drive, we all figured out that the bus was not cooling down. The driver pulled off to the side of the freeway to call the company mechanic and he tried a couple of things, and then led us back out onto the road, where we would simmer for nine more hours.

Within 10 minutes of our little pit stop at the side of the freeway, the bus seemed to heat up to over 100 degrees. With the engine heating the bottom of the floor, and just a little 2-inch vent at the top of the bus bringing in air from the outside, the bus turned into a sauna.

One by one, the guys stripped down to their underwear, if we were lucky. Dennis Pelfrey, our resident nudist of the past four years, promptly lost all of his clothing and then made a few trips up and down the aisle of the bus as if making his walk on a fashion show runway.

Others followed suit one by one. Thank God the windows were tinted.

Two hours into the trip, our manager, Greg Tagert, asked the bus driver to pull into a truck stop so our guys could get some air and some drinks. I'm sure our guys turned a few heads as they flopped off the bus one by one, shirtless and lacquered in perspiration, gasping for air as they stumbled toward the air-conditioned comfort of the convenience store.

Our guys all found different ways to cool down in the store. Shortstop David Munoz walked straight to the cooler of ice bags, opened the door, and stood in the cooler for a couple of minutes.

One of our catchers, Steve Booth, stuck his head into the big glass drink cooler for a while.

We made about three more stops at various truck stops on the way. At each one, all of our guys soaked their heads in the bathroom sinks before dragging themselves back onto the bus.

About three hours out of Kalamazoo, as we made our way through Chicago, we ran into a rather brutal lightning storm. There was thunder, blustering winds, and a lot of lightning strikes, but best of all, there was a lot of rain. Lots and lots of rain to cool down the bus.

The hour of rain must have brought the temperature on the bus down at least 15 degrees. It was a miracle. Like the parting of the Red Sea, the cooling of the bus would have made believers of us all. It was as if God blew down a cool breath of air from the heavens to relieve our weary bodies.

Tired, bored and, yes, dehydrated, we pulled into the parking lot at the Days Inn of Kalamazoo at about 10 in the morning for a few hours of rest before our 6:30 p.m. game against the Kings.

Funny thing is, we won 9-3. Booth and Munoz each homered as we gained a game in the standings and earned a much-needed night of sleep and air conditioning in the hotel.

But tomorrow there will be another game, and then another and another to follow for 26 more days.

And of course, there will be more bus rides.

Brendan Sagara, a former University of Hawaii-Hilo pitcher, is in his first season as pitching coach with the Springfield-Ozark (Mo.) Ducks.



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