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Wednesday, 18 July 2012 14:13

Indians’ baseball in July: talking about life on the bus

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It is another late-night bus ride home for the Swift Current Indians. As we make our way home from Lethbridge, Alta. in the wee hours of the night, the movie Disturbia flickers on the off-colour bus TVs.

Dre Beats line the rows of seats as the newest headphone fad makes its way to the WMBL.
Cans of chewing tobacco are used as currency to repay teammates for picking up their glove or team-issued fleece from the dugout after a game.
The odd player makes his way to the washroom at the back of the bus and must duck and climb over legs that are stretched out across the aisle.
These lanky legs of pitchers and positions players are still sporting baseball socks that have nine innings worth of stench in them. A true test of focus and determination is to successfully make it from your seat to the washroom and back without stepping on anyone. This feat of concentration and athleticism makes any player feel like they are worthy of a show like American Gladiator, minus the neon pants and wavy mullet.  
Only a few guys are actually watching the movie.
It is played for those who cannot fall asleep or who are not fortunate enough to have an iPhone on to play Flick Home run or Angry Birds. It always seems the bus movie volume is either inaudible or ear-punishingly loud. Complaints from the back of the bus are frequently heard, but rarely acted upon. The appropriate volume that pleases all passengers aboard is as illusory as the “key to the batter’s box.”
Just as I find a decent position in the awkward and uncomfortable bus seat, the driver drifts across the white highway line and onto the rumble strips, startling myself and several other passengers with the noise and vibration. Being able to sleep on a bus is skill that I did not acquire in my five years of college baseball. I am, like many others, forced to be alone with my own wandering thoughts.  These long prairie bus rides are not that bad when your team wins. Four-hour bus trips can seem short when you go 3-4 with a double, or throw six scoreless innings and get the victory. What about the other players though? What about the guys who struggled, or who did not get a single inning or at bat?
We can all agree baseball is one of the most team-orientated games out there. Few players have single handedly won championships at any competitive level of baseball.
Travelling can be one of the toughest parts of sports. Late night arrivals and early morning wake-ups are synonymous with college athletics. These longs days and rough bus rides seem to lengthen when your playing time is shortened. Few know what goes on in the mind of the lowly bullpen pitcher who appears to be throwing gasoline on a fire each time he delivers a pitch, or the hitter who cannot catch a break as he makes each pitcher he faces look like Greg Maddux.
Books are written about mental approaches and psychological conditioning in the game of baseball. There has always been a ton of emphasis put on what goes on in a player’s head. This is because there is too much time to think in baseball. There is too much delay, downtime, and nothingness that leads to the over activity of the mind. Hitters over-analyze their swings during batting practice two hours before the game. Bullpen pitchers are sometimes forced to perform psychoanalysis on fellow relievers who cannot hit the strike zone, or claim some just need the right mixture of energy drink and ibuprofen to get them on track.
There is no simple or right way to success in the game of baseball. Everyone’s achievements are due to something personal and unique. However, analyzing every single detail of your last performance for days straight until it drives you insane, like I have seen fellow teammates and even myself do, is undoubtedly a serious mistake.

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Alex Tufts

Alex Tufts is a pitcher with Swift Current Indians of the Western Major Baseball League. His column will run every week during baseball season.