Illinois baseball players are a hearty bunch.
They have to be during the tumultuous March weather when there isn't much of a choice.
If needed they'll travel to the ends of the earth to get their games in. Well, at least the ends of the contiguous United States.
While North Central College celebrated the men's basketball team's berth into the Sweet Sixteen of the Division III NCAA Tournament, the Cardinals' baseball team revved up Bessie the Bus for a 20-hour ride to the bayous of Louisiana en route to the gateway of Texas and the Ozarks of Arkansas.
Escaping the brutal cold — something several prep baseball teams will do for Spring Break next week — is a must for college programs. A lengthy road trip is the norm, and North Central is no different.
Last year it was a 13-hour drive to North Carolina. This year the Cardinals nearly doubled the jaunt to begin a nine-day trip.
“It's a lot of movie watching and sleeping,” said sophomore pitcher Ben Krusen, a Glenbard West graduate.
And a lot of stops. And waiting.
The trip was actually 15 hours of driving time, beginning with a 7 a.m. departure last Thursday from the Naperville campus. The other five hours were spent stopping for gas, stopping to eat, stopping to change drivers and just plain stopping.
The Cardinals were delayed for about an hour during a stop in Mississippi when the bus started leaking fluid. As much as Bessie struggled, though, she eventually made it to Alexandria, La. in preparation for an early evening game the next day against Louisiana College.
The name of the school's stadium? Allgood Field.
Of course, all wasn't good on the way to the field. Bessie broke down, but she was sent to the shop and fixed up for the rest of the trip.
Packing for such a long journey isn't easy. There's a checklist provided that includes sweats to wear on the bus “as long as they are OK looking,” but it's by no means an all-inclusive list.
You must have snacks. The kind folks from Louisiana College supplied the local treat of boudin as a farewell gift, but you still must have snacks.
And plenty of movies.
“We probably watched five to 10 movies,” said junior pitcher Kris Singh, a Waubonsie Valley graduate. “During the day it's harder to sleep so you have to have something to keep you occupied.”
Baseball movies are a plus. The North Central trip featured The Sandlot, For Love of the Game, The Benchwarmers and other standards for the typical college baseball player.
No matter how many movies you watch, though, there's no surefire way to soften the blow of that long of a bus ride. Even while down south the team endured multi-hour rides going from destination to destination.
One trip they didn't mind was to Louisiana State University. The dream spot of most college baseball players was the highlight of the trip for the Cardinals.
The Wall of Fame, the championship trophy case, the College World Series rings. The team felt like it was practicing in a museum.
“This trip is definitely one of the highlights of the year,” Krusen said. “It's a lot of team bonding where the younger players get to know the older players. Heading to a place like LSU is just a bonus.”
Alexandria and Bossier City, La. Marshall, Texas. Clarksville, Ark.
If a team doesn't bond by the end of all that, it never will. Surviving a baseball road trip prepares you for pretty much anything that comes your way the rest of the season.
Take, for example, the Cardinals' bus ride to East Texas Baptist University. Some of the bridges were too low for Bessie to get under, which obviously presented a major problem.
So what did the Cardinals do? They took Bessie around and over the bridges to eventually get to the field.
Not only are baseball players hearty, they're also resourceful.
Anything for a game.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit
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