Life on the Road Can Be Tough for Florence Freedom but Team Rolls With It
EVANSVILLE, IN - Major League Baseball teams fly in jets, sleep in five-star hotels, and eat at posh restaurants.
Frontier League teams take buses, eat peanut-butter and jelly, and stay at the Comfort Inn.
The Florence Freedom left home for the first time this season and headed southwest along the Ohio River to take on the Evansville Otters at historic Bosse Field over Memorial Day Weekend.
Sometimes it's tough on the frontier as the Freedom were outscored 14-4 in back-to-back losses on Friday and Saturday, but Freedom manager Dennis Pelfrey said that the Evansville Otters had more to do with the losses than the road.
"I think we need to tip our hats to Evansville. They have a great club and a great manager," Pelfrey said.
The players, though, have to adjust to some differences in lifestyle on the road. Gone are their cars, their extra time of batting practice and, for some, their typical food source from their host families in the Florence area.
"Food is an issue. We try to make sure that we have a little extra for our guys. Here at Evansville, they did a great job and had a lot of fruit for us. Typically, it's peanut-butter and jelly so we'll try to have some fruit for the guys and have that as well. So from a logistics standpoint, it's a lot tougher on us to make sure everything runs smoothly, because we don't want any excuses from players about performance on the field, and we want to make sure that they know they're getting taken care of the best we can," Pelfrey said.
Some of the host families came up to Evansville to watch the players they host and take them out to dinner after the games. Reliever Ed Kohout and four other players went out after the game on Friday with their host families.
"My host family is very into baseball. They just got into being a host family last year and they definitely enjoy it. We got really close, the off-season was great. We kept in touch and they look forward to the summer," Kohout said.
At home and away, most players find their options for entertainment and extracurricular activities to be limited due to the lack of rides and the low pay. As explained at The River City News in a preview of the season, players must be 26 or younger (with one exception), are paid between $800 and $1,200 a month, and must live with a host family within 10 miles of UC Health Stadium in Florence.
"I think a lot of it comes down to rides. They don't want to pay for a taxi. Most places have it where the hotel will have a lot of food places you can go, but for the most part, our guys are pretty low key and they might go have a couple of beers and call it a day," said Pelfrey.
Kohout said that many of his teammates stayed at the hotel on Friday night due to their not being much around the hotel. He said that the road can be tough on the players, but nothing that most of them haven't dealt with in other stops in their careers.
"It's definitely harder to play on the road compared to home, but I wouldn't say it's difficult. The first day you're a little sluggish, but other than that, you get ready to do it and it's really just like home except you don't have your home fence."
Another factor for the team is arranging all of the schematics in terms of travel and scheduling their time at the ballpark once they arrive. When in Evansville, the Freedom were given 45 minutes for batting practice instead of the hour they enjoy at home. Players arrive at the ballpark four hours early and also have the option of taking their bus to a nearby gym that the host city has arranged on behalf of its visiting competitors.
"The biggest thing on the road here is making sure that batting practice is down to a tee as far as the timing of it because we're hitting second, so they give us an allotted amount of time. Here, for example, it's 45 minutes. Most places it's 50 and we take an hour at home, so we try to condense that a little bit," Pelfrey said.
When their host families travel to see the players, it's nice for them to see a familiar face after the games. Even Coach Pelfrey reunited with some fans during the road trip to Evansville.
"I had a couple show up for me who were avid fans of my DuBois County Dragons and it was pretty neat seeing those guys. I hadn't seen them in several years," Pelfrey said.
The Frontier League is about the love of baseball, no matter where these guys are playing. Their lifestyle is far from glamorous, yet their enthusiasm and joy for the sport is infectious to the onlookers in the stands. Nearly everyone in the organization is interested in climbing the baseball ladder to higher levels of the game, but while they play in the independent league, it's evident they are happy with their current situation.
"I love it," Kohout, a native of Buffalo, said. "When people think of Kentucky, they have that stereotypical image of that southern drawl, but it's really not like that. It's really a metropolitan area, so there's a lot to do, it's a lot of fun."
Story & photos by Bryan Burke, associate editor