The Road To Omaha
Des Moines–It felt more like a Sunday, with the way the guys sauntered into Principal Park this morning around 11 AM. But from what I am told, it was a much-preferred and welcomed alternative to the typical 4 AM wake-up call for 6 AM flights to further Pacific Coast League cities like Portland, Fresno and Salt Lake City.
Today, the guys were headed to Omaha, Neb., just a short two hours away down Interstate 80, and I was going with them.
Everyone’s seen the 1988 film “Bull Durham” starring Kevin Costner. There’s a classic scene where Costner’s character Crash Davis is telling all his teammates about his time in the big leagues while strumming a guitar confiscated from a shrill Nuke LaLoosh.
Well, right-hander Justin Berg, who apparently plays in a band in his off-season, brings a guitar on the road, as does rightfielder Brad Snyder. But neither pulled out their axes on the bus.
“I only play in my hotel room,” Berg said. However, during his brief cup of coffee earlier this season, I saw Berg’s guitar in the home clubhouse. In fact, I saw the guitar before I saw Berg. But on this trip, the guitar and wa-wa pedals were stowed below.
Some guys slept, some guys just listened to music. Left-hander JR Mathes watched a movie on his laptop. It was surprisingly quiet, guys weren’t even talking to each other much. Because Omaha was so close, manager Bobby Dickerson, who normally flies ahead of the team to rent a car for the staff, simply drove ahead in his own truck so that the staff would not have to rent a car. In the minor leagues, cutting costs is applicable all over.
Dickerson is a fair, but tough manager, who is not afraid of calling out a player, but will offer a pat on the back just as readily. At the Triple-A level, many of the players have “grown-up” responsibilities, supporting spouses and children, mortgages. In a short trip like this, he allowed several players who had family with them to drive themselves to Omaha. So the bus was a little light of personnel.
I asked infielder Bobby Scales–who himself is married– about the seeming lack of interaction among his teammates. A veteran of nearly 11 minor-league seasons, Scales has seen a lot and his insight was enlightening.
“Part of it is the technology,” Scales said. “You mentioned Bull Durham. Yeah, they put a lot of stuff in movies, but really, if you think about it, technology has changed things. Guys have a lot personal entertainment devices, so guys aren’t really talking all that much. I think guys back in the day probably talked more because there was nothing else to do.
“The other thing is this team is very heavy on both ends, there aren’t a lot of guys in the middle,” Scales added.
“There are a bunch of older guys, maybe 27 or older then a bunch of guys 24 and younger. So there’s a gap there. What do you talk about? I talk about my wife and my house, but these younger guys don’t want to hear that.”
The busiest guy on the bus was trainer Matt Johnson, whose duties also include acting as the traveling secretary–arranging bus and plane rides, keeping track of meal money and hotel arrangements. Or in the case of this photo, coordinating travel arrangements for the end of the season for outfielder So Taguchi, who lives in St. Louis.
“Sometimes there’s a lot to do that isn’t necessarily athletic training,” said Johnson, the LaGrange Park, Ill., native said. “First and foremost, our job is to keep these guys healthy, but there are a lot of other things you have to do as well. It is the minor leagues.”