Life on the road: UB baseball players spend spring semester traveling
Before the baseball team plays its first home game on Apr. 7, they will have traveled 5,859 total miles to play non-conference opponents.
Due to the unforgiving winters of Buffalo, the Bulls are forced to spend much of the spring semester juggling classes and constant travel. They have already traveled to Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia in the first three weeks of this season. They typically play games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, before taking another bus ride all the way back.
“Monday there’s no excuse, you gotta get to class,” said Charlie Sobieraski, a junior pitcher and communication major. “Even though it might be tough getting home at 6 a.m. and then having to get up at 10 for an 11 o’clock class.”
Despite the free time during bus rides, getting work done is a challenge. Players say the wifi is often spotty and the conditions make it hard to get work done. Instead, the team gets their school work done in the lobby of hotels. Players try to stay ahead of schedule by going over lectures and getting work done before they hit the road.
“It’s tough when you’re trying to be a full time student and you’re missing class on Thursday and Friday,” said head coach Ron Torgalski. “We need to recruit guys that we know are gonna be able to handle that challenge of missing two days of classes each week and being able to stay on top of their studies.”
Maintaining a healthy diet on the road is also a challenge. The bus usually stops halfway through the trip at a plaza. Chipotle and pizza are the most popular options. Snacks from gas stations also hold the players over.
Going down south, the Bulls are facing teams that have been practicing outside almost year-round. The Murray State Racers, the second team the Bulls played this year, was able to have nine intrasquad scrimmages before their weekend series against Buffalo.
UB got outside twice before their first game.
The team practices inside during the start of the season at the North Amherst Recreation Center on Millersport Hwy. There are only about 50 yards of turf to work with, according to Alec Tuohy, a senior pitcher and computer science major.
Hitters practice against pitchers inside a batting cage featuring a dark setting with a white background that blends in with the baseball.
“Hitters get dominated because they can’t see,” Tuohy said.
Haefner also says that it is difficult to pick up the spin on the ball to identify what pitch is being thrown because hitters aren’t used to actually seeing the spin while inside. There is also the challenge of getting used to the strike zone again without being surrounded by a cage.
“The velocity seems a little faster than it actually is,” said junior shortstop and exercise science student Ben Haefner. “Guys throwing 82 miles per hour, it jumps out at you a little more.”
Being able to practice inside does have its benefits, according to Torgalski. It allows the team to work on small things, such as bunting off of a machine and hitting off a tee, which are practiced more indoors.
In efforts to get outside as much as possible, the team has had a couple practices on the football field. There they are able to hit, have infield and outfield practice, practice base running and have pitchers throw live against hitters off of a plastic mound.
“If you feel bad for yourself, you’re not really gonna take the next step,” Sobieraski said. “But if you look at it like it’s another day to get better, then it can really help you in the long run.”
If weather is permitting, the team practices at UB Stadium. There, they have infield and outfield practice, practice base running and have pitchers throw live against hitters. Getting outside is a real benefit for Tuohy, as he is first in the pitching rotation every weekend, typically starting games on Friday’s.
“I just do it. No one really cares how much rest you get,” Tuohy said. “You have a lot of time to think about it, so you just mentally prepare on the bus.”
The long road schedule is actually used as a recruitment tool by Torgalski. The majority of the kids that he recruits are from the northeast, so they are used to playing in cold conditions.
“It’s our job to put together a schedule that is not only challenging, but is exciting for recruits,” Torgalski said. “When they see that we’re going to Houston or Oklahoma or Georgia and see some big teams on your schedule, it’s exciting.”
The tough conditions don’t bother most Bulls though. The only improvement that Tuohy would make would be to allow the baseball team to fly more often, but he understands that it is an unrealistic wish.
“All that comes with money,” Tuohy said. “We bring in zero dollars and spend a lot of dollars.”
Justin Bystrak is a sports staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org