Louisiana Tech’s baseball team, proud of its “rally trains” that often opportunistically chug across the tracks beyond J.C. Love Field’s outfield fence, found itself last weekend in need of a rally bus.
The 12-hour one-way trip to play Charlotte in North Carolina in the final three-game series of the regular season began mid-morning Tuesday aboard a pair of busses. This happens at a school Tech’s size many times each season. Few charter flights at mid-majors.
Most people don’t appreciate the grind of sports travel. You just think it’s hard getting to the family reunion and not losing your mind or getting in a fistfight once you’re there. That’s a ride for a quarter on a drugstore pony compared to moving an entire team from Point Home to Point Lord-Help-Us-All.
Flying commercial with a baseball team is stressful for lots of reasons — cost, long layovers or delayed flights, and mainly airport check-in folk who, God love them, are not usually prepared for the amount of equipment a team needs to transport.
You can get through a line faster at the world’s worst DMV. But say what you will about the DMV, they don’t make you take your shoes off to walk inside.
The friendly skies my ass.
But a bus, you can control. Until you can’t.
And that’s what happened.
I was tagging along with the team and, having driven to Carolina and back many times, knew my butt would be numb. Didn’t know my mind would be too.
Tech’s first leg was to Hoover, Alabama. Six hours, practice, sleep, Wednesday ride the next six hours, practice, sleep, play Thursday and Friday, play Saturday morning and ride all night the 12 hours back to Ruston.
It worked out that way and wasn’t bad, most things considered — unless you consider what should have been a Silver Streak-like, stop-at-Cracker-Barrel-for-lunch, Straight Shot to Hoover.
Unfortunately, you do have to consider it, and it was stupefying.
Our drivers stopped in Tallulah for an emergency kidney transplant. (Check that: for a soda pop.) Then we stopped an hour after lunch and only 80 minutes from Hoover because one of the busses needed to rest for 15 minutes or it might “explode.” Something about calibration or restoration but more likely a fabrication, which in this case was driver talk for “I need a heater and another soda pop.”
We were eastbound, but down. Uneasy riders.
Because there were too many hitches in too many git-a-longs, we finally worked out a compromise with the drivers. It was something like, “Can we borrow the keys?” They drove and there were no more unscheduled stops. Probably just a misunderstanding.
The Bulldogs lost to Charlotte’s 49ers, the hottest team in the league at 11-1 against Conference USA opponents in their most recent four series, in Game 1, 11-3. Most things considered, semi-embarrassing. But as they’ve done all season, the ’Dogs rebounded to win the next two, 8-3 and 14-5, making the ride home much less painful.
The busses might have stopped, but they didn’t slow Tech down. Pretty resilient, these Bulldogs.
Funny thing about a baseball team. On the road, they stumble into a restaurant or truck stop and fan out in their street shorts and tees and the people inside don’t know if the carnival is in town, if the roadies for Motley Crue are hungry, or if the church men’s group is stopping for gas and a Peanut Pattie on the way to help clean up after a hurricane. All shapes and sizes, these baseball guys.
But on the field, if you’ve watched them play, who they’ve become is easy to recognize. Tech bussed to Hattiesburg, Miss., Tuesday — you get the feeling they’d have walked if necessary, so eager are they to play — to begin the Conference USA tournament today. They’re 38-18 overall, 20-10, and second place in the league. A tournament title is on the line, maybe a berth in next week’s regionals.
Their coach says his guys are just ready to get the show back on the road.
“This time of year, you need to be playing loose, having fun, and we seem to be doing that,” Lane Burroughs said. “I don’t know how we’ll do this week. But I can assure you of this: these guys aren’t ready for the season to end.”
They don’t want to stop anymore.
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