IT might not be the preferred choice for most sports teams — kicking off a new American Association season by playing 10 per cent of your schedule far away from the friendly confines of home.
But it’s become an annual tradition for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, who lobby to start every year this way with a road trip that players and coaches say can help set the stage for success. It all gets going once again on this evening in Cleburne, Texas, when the Goldeyes begin their 24th campaign with a four-game series against the expansion Railroaders. That will be followed by six more games in Kansas against both the Wichita Wingnuts and Salina Stockade.
When they return to Shaw Park for their home opener on May 29, Winnipeg will have 90 regular-season games remaining, with 50 of those in their own park.
"Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect with it. But when you think about it, it’s really not a big deal," returning second-basemen Casio Grider told the Free Press on Wednesday, in a telephone interview from Texas, following a team workout.
He said there are many positives to starting out in the south — including the fact it was over 30 C in Texas while Winnipeg barely broke 10 C on Wednesday. There’s also the matter of team bonding, which can be important in a league with so much turnover each season.
"We have guys coming in, guys going out. You get to know a lot of the guys on these bus trips," said Grider.
The Goldeyes will be looking to get off to a hot start as they try to defend their American Association championship, knowing other teams will be gunning for them. But Grider said its important to stay grounded during what is a long season.
"That’s always everybody’s mindset, to get going off the right foot. But baseball’s a marathon. It’s not how you do in the beginning, not how you do in the middle, but how you do in the end," said Grider.
Last year’s Goldeyes team is a perfect example. They were scuffling along around the .500 mark at about the halfway point of the season before hitting their stride in August and riding the momentum to their third title.
"We’d like to get off to a good start so we’re not playing catch-up," Goldeyes manager Rick Forney said Wednesday. His active 23-man roster includes nine returning players from last season and 14 newcomers.
"You try not to apply too much pressure to your guys, but they know what’s expected here in Winnipeg. We try to build a championship every year," said Forney, who believes at least 60 wins will be needed to qualify for the playoffs.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.