LOWELL -- For all players on the short season A Lowell Spinners' roster, the road to The Show is not only littered with potential career-altering potholes, it consists of an endless string of bus rides they hope will drive them to their vision of hardball heaven, the Green Cathedral that is Fenway Park.
The team bus often becomes the home away from home for minor league baseball players, especially those who spend their summer in the New York-Penn League, chasing their dream on the highways, city streets and country roads of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland.
Between now and early September, the Spinners will likely spend as much time together driving in a bus as they will on the field. Lowell will take trips to Aberdeen, Md., (392 miles), State College, Pa., (445 miles), Mahoning Valley, Ohio (603 miles) and Williamsport, Pa., (395 miles).
"This is year 29 of me traveling by bus in the minor leagues," said Spinners manager Bruce Crabbe. "I'm used to it. It's a gypsy lifestyle, but I love it. It's all I know. I have no problem getting on a bus. Sure, I'd rather be doing charter flights. It is what it is and this is what I do best.
"I like to hang with these young kids and teach them how to do it. This is one of those things where you never want to let them see you sweat. You do what has to be done and you do it the right way and hope they follow your lead."
Spinner pitcher Matt Maloney, 29, a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005, has seen his career rise and fall since signing a minor-league deal with the Red Sox.
Maloney, a left-hander who is with the Spinners on a rehab assignment, first played in the NY-PL with Batavia in 2005. He pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins, compiling a 5-9 Major League record. He knows traveling by plane is the way to go, as opposed to being cooped up in a bus as night threatens to give way to dawn.
"When it comes to traveling by bus you just grind it out," said Maloney. "At my age my back can feel pretty bad, especially after a longer ride. Fortunately, most of the time these guys have everything pretty regimented. Even with the long trips the routine is pretty much the same. These guys are young and they can bounce back from a longer bus ride no problem."
The best way to pass time on a lengthy bus trip, especially at night, is sleep. But for most players that's wishful thinking. You can try and count all the sheep you want between Lowell and the Ohio border, sometimes you are forced to watch a movie, play cards or read a book.
"If you can sleep, you are lucky," said Spinners pitcher Jack McGeary, a Newton native who has spent time in the NY-PL with Vermont and Auburn. "Even an hour of sleep is great. I pass the time by reading, watching movies, playing cards, the usual stuff.
"The bus trips are part of our routine and you adapt. You realize some nights you are going to be getting in late. But you have to be ready to go when you get up the next morning. You figure out a way to deal with it. After a while the irregularity of our travel schedule becomes normal."
Life on the road is not all fun and games. The players put in long days at the park that can turn into longer nights on the road.
"It's a definitely a huge grind," said Spinner outfielder Kendrick Perkins. "If you are not 100 percent into this, you probably aren't going to make it. The game is more mental than physical once you get to this level.
"You have to be locked in mentally every day when you arrive at the park. Even the days you don't feel great after a long bus trip, you make sure to get your work in and then look in the mirror and feel great that you did it."
Typically, the mood on the bus has a direct correlation to a team's performance on the field.
"The best advice I can give the players is try and enjoy it," said Crabbe. "No one likes the bus rides, but you don't know how long this is going to last. See the country and enjoy the experience.
"I can tell you it's a lot more fun when you win when traveling on a bus. It's a lot a lot tougher when you are on a losing streak. But it's all part of the baseball lifestyle."