There’s a saying in baseball. “If you don’t like it, get better”.
For 25 struggling guys, 5 washed up coaches, a clubhouse laundry roadie, and a half dead bus driver, that saying was about to mentally put a lot of egotistical men on the side of the road, in the middle of Wyoming, searching for their souls.
Rookie League baseball is the lowest professional level a player can be at after turning pro. It’s mostly for guys who are out of high school, skipping on college because of a hefty signing bonus, players who have some potential to possibly mold into a major leaguer from a small college, or international players who signed for a bag of peanuts, just to stop playing with broomsticks and makeshift baseballs made from dried coconuts or wound up rice patty leaves.
Our team was the Orem Owlz, a rookie league for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Don’t get me wrong, we all had talent, some better than others, some (slim chance) but possible future major league ball players, but as a team fundamentally in our youth, we weren’t very good. What we all had in common though is we were the best where we came from; scouts flocked to see us play, every one of us. To a 17, 18, or 19-year-old kid, that’s a huge ego booster. For some, throw on top a million-dollar-plus signing bonus and news coverage for weeks, it was downright an instant failure from day one, they thought they had already made.
We were about to embark on one of the most gut-wrenching, disgusting, vomit inducing bus trips you could imagine from Orem, Utah to Casper, Wyoming. When I say bus, I don’t mean TOUR BUS, I mean a school bus with a broken air conditioner and no bathroom that reeking of cigarette smoke and dirty jockstraps. Not to mention, it wasn’t equipped with enough seats for the whole team, so the floor aisle served an unlucky few. We took off around 1:00 AM, tired and pissed off from just losing a 14-inning, 5 1/2-hour rain-delayed game. Our trip was scheduled for 10 hours, with one stop at a gas station for dinner. Our next scheduled game was in 17 hours, 500-plus miles away to a town with one stop light, a Wendy’s, and an old baseball stadium that Babe Ruth called the “septic tank” of minor league ball. We weren’t a happy bunch to say the least.
About 4 hours into our weary eyed trip, stomachs filled with microwave hotdogs and stale beef jerky, one player starts throwing up violently. Remember, no bathrooms. While he is keeled over and having a horrific food poisoning episode, another player starts throwing up into his own sweatshirt one row behind him. At this point the guys who had fallen asleep start to wake up, probably from the smell that was consuming the inside of this submarine on wheels. Before you know it, there are six or seven tired, puke-drenched guys fully sick on a bus in the middle of nowhere. And we weren’t stopping — there wasn’t anywhere to stop. We were on a two lane highway to “septic tank”, Wyoming, creating our own on the way. The whole bus is fully awake at this point and also engulfed in the most horrific smell imaginable; the rest of us still on the verge of losing our stomachs. For two hours it continued, ’til the nausea finally subsided and there were water bottles literally being poured out onto the seats to clean up, and t-shirts being used as mops. Guys were passed out from pure sickened exhaustion. We had four hours to go!
As the sun started creeping up over the horizon, illuminating fields of absolute nothing, we found ourselves on a very narrow two-lane highway with only semi trucks, filled with god-knows-what, passing in the opposite lane. All of a sudden from the front of the bus, one of the few awake yells, “The side door is spilling our luggage out!!!!” I thought I was dreaming. But as I hear the driver start to let off the gas and slow, I knew it was no dream. Our baseball bags, personal bags, and team equipment had all been, for lack of a better word, vomiting out the side of the bus for at least a mile. As the bus came to a stop, we were faced with no other choice but to all get out and start walking by foot, guarded by the bus reversing to block us from oncoming 18-wheelers, and pick up what seemed to be our lives on the highway. For a little more than an hour, we heaved and dragged our bags back into the bus, barely sane, then duct-taped the thing shut.
We finally arrived to our motel shocked (or not) to find there wasnt enough rooms for all of us, we’d have to sleep four to a room. We didn’t fucking care. Battered, defeated, sick, and wanting to call it quits right then and there, we huddled up 25 of us in 7 rooms. We had a few hours to get some sleep before we were back to the grind.
We grew up that night, we were living our dreams and we didn’t even know it. What we did know was, “If we didn’t like it, we had to get better.”
And we did.