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Southern Terrain: Life on the Road with Aggie Baseball

March 27, 2014
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

SOUTHERN TERRAIN

Baseball life on the road, and in the SEC, is not for those who are soft.
A ruggedness is required to conquer both.

by Will Johnson '01
12th Man Productions

You wouldn’t blame a few of the Aggies if they took one last look around Globe Life Park in Arlington, in the late hours of March 4th.  After all, several of them would like to return to a similar venue--only as Major Leaguers.  I’m sure everyone would understand a final peek just before loading their bus. 

But, that bus ride is what’s in the present--and nearer future. The path to the bigs is paved with them.  This trip, after defeating UT Arlington in the Rangers’ home, will put the Aggies back in College Station after 2 a.m., and they’ll play again later that day versus Texas Southern.

These major league hopefuls will have to conquer a life that requires this sort of grind almost every day if they are to return to a GlobeLife, Fenway, Wrigley or MinuteMaid. 

That’s Baseball. It’s a traveler’s game. 

“You definitely have to get used to it, and be comfortable in very uncomfortable positions,” says senior pitcher Parker Ray.

At the collegiate level, the diamond sports of baseball and softball will spend the most nights away from College Station. For example, in the regular season baseball will spend 18 nights away from home. Compare that to football--four nights away (during the 2013 regular season), and men’s basketball--12.  You start to get the idea. 

That’s why efficiency is of the upmost importance.

OFF TO AUBURN

On Thursday afternoon, the itinerary for the trip to Auburn states the Aggies will bus to Easterwood Airport at 12:30 p.m. I pulled up to the Blue Bell Park lot at 12:21, thinking I’d done just fine. 

Suddenly I realized the entire team and staff had already loaded, and I’m the last to do so.  Head Coach Rob Childress is the first person I see as I step on.

“Am I tardy?” I asked.

“You certainly are,” Coach replied.

That’s Aggie Baseball. It doesn’t run on time. It runs early. 

“Our guys have to have attention to detail, and manage their time wisely,” Childress says.

The team landed in Montgomery, and then hit the road for an hour ride to Auburn, making every checkpoint on the itinerary early it seemed. The Aggies were ahead of schedule, just the way Childress likes it.

That evening called for a workout at Plainsman Park. Behind home plate, Jordan-Hare Stadium peeked over the roof, as if it were spying on the Tigers’ next-day opponent. From the outfield wall, murals of Auburn’s baseball greats, such as Bo Jackson and Frank Thomas, looked in. The Aggies seemed not to care. This business trip was well underway.

The rehearsal at a road venue on the eve of a series brings about the game’s great little intricacies.

It’s not just your typical batting practice. You’ll find catcher Troy Stein rolling baseballs up the first-base line to see how bunts will play. Right fielder Nick Banks comments on how impressive the surface is, and he’s aware he may need extra focus this weekend. At his position, just inches behind the fence, Auburn students like to grill and have a non-concession stand issued drink or two. A few phrases may come Nick’s way he’ll have to let roll off. It’s spring break here, and that will help.

The dimensions are odd at Plainsman Park, and you can’t help but notice the monster wall in left field.  This is a point made by Rob Childress when he meets with the team at the close of the workout.

“We won’t double cut on balls off the wall in left,” he tells the Aggies. “There will be some hard hit balls to left that are singles because of that wall.”

Associate Head Coach Andy Sawyers then makes the Ags aware that, at certain times, a sun field could exist in left, and he wants infielders on that side (the shortstop and third baseman) to go out for everything to help.

There was a lot to dissect. More than you’d think.

But that’s baseball.

SOUTHERN LIVING

After practice, dinner was at a local barbecue establishment, and some SEC flavor was on the menu. Not in the form of the food, but in the restaurant’s atmosphere. 

A member of the wait staff rolls by to tell some of the Aggies, “No offense guys, but War Eagle!”

Customer service be damned. This is the Southeastern Conference.

Later, another restaurant worker stops by to offer a different message. 

“Will y’all please make sure y’all whip Alabama this year.”

The Tide and Tiger rivalry never dissipates here.

Auburn is a fantastic place for a sporting weekend. A small town where they are big on their Tigers.

The campus is picturesque in many spots. There’s some incline and undulation to it that contradicts its location being ‘On the Plains’. For brief seconds you get glimpses that combine Old Charleston and New England when you stroll by McCartney Terrace and Samford Hall.

Then you make your way to Toomer’s Corner and can’t help but feel a sadness. Gone are the school’s beloved oaks, but their stumps remain, serving as a reminder of what happened here. 

It’s quiet due to Spring Break, but you can feel the passion that runs through the town and campus.  Almost as if the students left it behind, and it’s waiting on their return.

That’s Auburn. A great college town, where their energy is still felt in the dormant days of spring break.

THE SERIES

On Friday night at Plainsman Park, Auburn’s top three men in their lineup put on a clinic. The Tigers lashed out nine hits, seven by Jordan Ebert, Dan Glevenyak and Damek Tomscha, who were 1-2-3 in the order.  Auburn took the opener.

The bus ride back to the hotel is a very short one, but the silence extended it. Not a word was spoken.  The lack of noise was almost eerie. I didn’t hear Rob Childress’ message to the team after the game, but the scene suggested it was clearly received.

Saturday morning brought a new day, and a new attitude.  At breakfast this team was a mixture of excitement and relaxation. Casual conversations at some tables, cutting up at others.

That’s baseball, a clean slate always awaits despite the previous day’s outcome.

Saturday would require several hours at the park. A doubleheader was scheduled to avoid bad weather that was coming on Sunday, meaning Aggies would have to dig in for nearly 9 hours on site.

Unfortunately, what Ebert, Glevenyak and Tomscha started the day before filtered through the rest of the lineup in Game 1.  Auburn went for 15 hits in a 5-2 win to take the series. A&M was only left to salvage in the finale.

Behind Grayson Long, they did just that. Long arrived at Plainsman Park shortly before Noon. The Aggies didn’t want him standing around, waiting for his start later that day. He was brilliant, throwing eight scoreless innings. To this point in the season the sophomore had thrown in 34 innings, allowing only a single run.

This time the A&M offense blasted away for 15 hits in a 9-0 victory. Thirty minutes removed from a listless loss, the Aggies showed their mettle and grabbed a win before the close of the weekend.

The Ags bussed out and flew home carrying a mixed bag. Certainly they weren’t pleased with games one or two, but the third contest proved a little something. They showed they had some fight, and the onslaught gave a glimpse to the capabilities of these bats in the lineup.

Also, the first weekend of SEC play had come and gone, and not one series resulted in a sweep. This knowledge crept in on the way home. One series in an extensive grind through the best league in the country.

Much more was on the way.

That’s baseball. As you hit the skies to your next destination, another chance is on the horizon.

THE AFTERMATH

A&M went 3-1 the week after leaving the plains, including winning a home series against Florida.

It’s now time venture out again. The next stop is Athens, Georgia for a 3-game set with the Bulldogs.

Like Auburn, the Aggies have never been there in the past. The Thursday workout will provide much of the same intricacies this team will have to familiarize themselves with. Foley Field is bound to have its own quirks and secrets waiting to be uncovered.

The competition will unfold on harsh ground.  Two weeks into SEC play. the road hasn’t been kind to anyone.  Fourteen series have taken place--the home team has won 11.

Buses and planes will get the Aggies to Athens. Togetherness and mental toughness will be required to get them through the weekend. Then it will all start over again. The routine is down cold. The SEC schedule perfectly rotates the Aggies from home to the road each week. Back and forth they’ll go, riding the ups and downs along the way, while trying to stay steady within.

They’ll run early, not on time. They’ll uncover every little stone and pebble at opposing parks. They’ll keep doing it all over again.

Why?

Because.

That’s baseball.



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