The Road Warriors Take The Idea Of A Travelling Sports Team To The Extreme
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Road Warriors take the idea of a traveling sports team to the extreme. They don't ever have home-field advantage. Marc Filippino brings us the story of a team that is always going out to a ballgame.
MARC FILIPPINO, BYLINE: It's a few hours before game time, and baseball players from a team called the Road Warriors are taking batting practice at the New Britain Bees stadium in Connecticut. If the teams don't sound familiar, it's probably because they're part of the independent Atlantic League, so they're not at all affiliated with Major League teams like the Yankees. But teams in this league do have a history of showcasing young talent who sometimes make it up to the majors. The Road Warriors don't have a loyal fanbase, though, or even a home ballpark. They're playing the entire 2018 season - 126 games - on the road.
RAFI MONTALVO: We tell those guys, just try to have fun all the time. And I know it's tire (ph). And once in a while, we're going to have a days off, like, taking batting practice or something. Don't come to the ballpark so early.
FILIPPINO: That's Road Warriors coach Rafi Montalvo. Having been a coach back in 2011, he knows how tiring this life can be. You see; the Road Warriors are a bit like February 29. They're a league-operated crew of fill-ins that get re-established every few years when a regular team dissolves. This year's Road Warrior team will only play this season. And they don't exactly get the royal treatment. After playing three-hour games, they'll stay in hotels from New Hampshire down to Texas, traveling with just two bags each - one for personal items and one for equipment. But Montalvo says there are perks to being on the road 24/7.
MONTALVO: We try to make good friend every time we go to the hotels and everything. And we eventually - people will root for us.
FILIPPINO: Mostly friends and family, but there are a few Road Warrior fans. Take Chuck Gordon, a Boston-based consultant who's got his baseball cards out and asking for autographs. He says he sometimes travels for work, but...
CHUCK GORDON: I have a home. I have, you know, my own house I go to every night. These guys are on the road nonstop.
FILIPPINO: And then there's Zach Allyn and his son Kam who have a soft spot for outfielder Anthony Ray.
KAM ALLYN: So cool.
ANTHONY RAY: (Laughter) Here, this the bat I wanted to give you.
ZACH ALLYN: Oh.
KAM: Thank you.
RAY: There you go. No problem, buddy.
ALLYN: Thank you so much, Anthony.
RAY: You're one of my favorite friends.
ALLYN: Can I get a picture?
FILIPPINO: They've been following Ray for the last few years. Zach says these players are a little bit more human than they are at the major leagues.
ALLYN: You know, the David Ortizes and the Derek Jeters - and those guys are great to follow, and they're, you know - but I really like guys who are good baseball players but also great guys.
FILIPPINO: But they know it's tough to keep track of these players. Just look at infielder Chris Rivera. The last time he played ball, it was in the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 2016. But last year, he went unsigned, so he jumped at the opportunity to play with the Atlantic League's York Revolution in Pennsylvania. And just a few games into the season, the unexpected happened.
CHRIS RIVERA: At first, I was like, no way that I got traded in the middle of a double-header.
FILIPPINO: That's right. He started the first game with the Revolution and started the second game with the Road Warriors. He knew the Road Warriors' constant travel would be tough, but he also knew this could give him a shot at getting to the majors.
RIVERA: Money's money, but we're all trying to have - we all have the same goal. We all want to - you know, we want to get back to affiliated ball. You know, I have this experience, you know, in my pocket. So it's going to be a really cool thing to think back on.
FILIPPINO: He can't ignore how different this is from the typical baseball experience. His team will never bat last, so there are no walk-off wins. And Rivera really misses the walk-up songs that home players hear when they come to bat. He said he'd have rapper Ty Dolla $ign play as he digs into the batter's box. But as a Road Warrior, Rivera will have plenty of time to listen to his favorite music during the thousands of miles of travel over the next few months. For NPR News, I'm Marc Filippino. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.