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On the road again


Imagine waking up in a hotel in Columbus, Ga., on a Thursday morning. You’re in town for business and scheduled to go on to Charleston, S.C., for three more meetings this weekend.

After you put in a full day on the job, however, you get a call from your boss. He says to scratch your previous plans and return to Savannah immediately - you’ve been transferred.

By Friday afternoon, you’re in Melbourne, Fla., with a new supervisor and co-workers, and they expect you to work until 10 p.m., maybe even later.

Such is the life of a minor league baseball player. Clint Everts and Luis Apodaca of the Savannah Sand Gnats followed a very similar path to the one described above just last week.

Everts pitched 6 1/3 innings Thursday night, allowing three runs and picking up his seventh victory of the year. Not one of his best efforts of 2004, but certainly adequate. Apodaca had a rare night off from catching, meaning he got to relax in the 90-degree heat of the Columbus dugout.

Like all of the Sand Gnats, Everts and Apodaca were prepared for the long bus ride after the game. After all, practically half of the five-month baseball season is spent on the road. However, these two players were in for a bit of a surprise.

Instead of making a seven-hour trip to Charleston, the team would be dropping them off in Savannah to catch a flight the next morning. Both players were being promoted to the Brevard County Manatees, the Montreal Expos’ High-A affiliate.

When the bus finally arrived at their apartment complex, it was either really late Thursday night or extremely early Friday morning, depending on how you look at it. And the plane to Florida would be leaving only a few hours later, with or without them and all of their belongings.

Around the same time the two Sand Gnats received their good news, another young catcher in Burlington, Vermont got some of his own. Burlington is the location of the Vermont Expos, who are one step below Savannah on Montreal’s minor-league ladder.

The Expos began Thursday’s game with the Brooklyn Cyclones, but were forced to cancel it after four innings due to rain. It was then that Devin Ivany,new addition to the Vermont squad, found out he was moving again.

Ivany, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was a junior catcher this season for the University of South Florida. After playing in 54 of his team’s 55 games, he was selected by Montreal in the sixth round of the 2004 Major League Baseball draft.

Ivany signed with the Expos on June 23 and was assigned to Vermont. One month later, after appearing in ten games and with just six hits in 39 at-bats, he joined the Sand Gnats in Charleston.

It is not just these three players who have to contend with outrageous travel schedules on the path to the major leagues. Every minor league team spends countless hours on buses, in hotels and at fast food restaurants.

The Sand Gnats have thirteen road trips in the 2004 season, with 22 individual series. There are ridiculously short trips – one or two days – as well as eight and nine-game marathons. Between Opening Day on April 8 and September 6’s season finale, there are only twelve days with no games scheduled, including the three-day All-Star Break.

A player can be sent from here to there and back again in a very short time, depending on what team is lacking at his position. Jason Tuttle is one example of such a situation. Despite the fact that the outfielder was one of Brevard County’s leading hitters, he was demoted to Savannah in late June due to an outfielder shortage. After a week of beating up on South Atlantic League pitching, the Sand Gnats’ outfielders were healthy again and Tuttle returned to Florida.

Of this season’s Sand Gnats, however, Salomon Manriquez, has the most frequent flyer miles. He began the season with stints in Savannah and Brevard County before advancing to Double-A Harrisburg, Penn. Twenty days later he returned to Savannah, and just two weeks ago he flew once again to Melbourne to rejoin the Manatees.

Whether or not hitting a baseball is the toughest skill in sports is debatable. But if you factor in travel requirements, minor-league baseball is certainly one of the most exhausting sports around.

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