One of the most unique aspects of the National Lacrosse League is the travel schedule of the players involved. Most of these guys hold down regular jobs during the week and then hop on planes and fly all over North America on the weekends to play the game that they love. It can be quite crazy at times, especially on a two-game weekend like this one where we travel to the East Coast for games in Boston and New York (well, New Jersey).
So to give the Stealth fans back on the left coast and the rest of the NLL fans out there some idea about what goes on during a busy travel weekend, I thought I would put together a little running diary of what I experience on the road (and prove my travel worth to my boss, VP and Assistant General Manager Doug Locker). I am fortunate enough to get to travel with the team and take in a little of what each city has to offer – which is a pretty cool and very unique opportunity – and at the same time have to deal with the same issues the players do with on a hectic road trip. So here is my take on the life of an NLL star, minus the rug burns and bruises.
Friday, February 27, 2009
6:00am – I wake up at the butt-crack of dawn to one of my least favorite sounds in the world: my alarm clock. My journey to Boston begins with an 8:30 flight out of Oakland to Long Beach. Stealth Equipment Manager Brad Hock (known as “Hockeye” to the players, and will be referred to as such from this point forward) will be at my Danville residence to pick me up in a half hour. I am not exactly what people would refer to as a “morning person” so I hit the snooze to buy myself a few minutes. I did most of my packing the night before and don’t feel like taking a shower (the person next to me on the flight can deal with my B.O.; I don’t really care) so I lay in bed and remind myself what I need to bring with me. I know for a fact the members of the team that are in San Jose are still sound asleep, since they don’t leave for a few hours, and the East Coast guys have short trips and won’t leave until I am hovering comfortably above the Midwest.
6:30am – Hockeye calls me at 6:15 to let me know he’s on his way to pick me up, so I better roll myself out of bed and get ready to go. He’s ready to go when I meet him downstairs and way too peppy for me. I notice he’s already made a stop at Starbucks and didn’t pick anything up for me (thanks Hockeye, and for future reference, I enjoy a delicious Chai Tea Latte to get me going in the morning). We hit the road for Oakland and cruise along on the 580 freeway. Soon enough though, the Bay Area rush hour traffic catches up with us, and we’re puttering along at a snail’s pace. I lived in the Los Angeles area for three years prior to my stint with San Jose, and that traffic was brutal at times. But as I drive more and more in the Bay Area, it appears that traffic just sucks everywhere in California.
8:00am – We make it to the Oakland airport with little time to spare and lug six bags across the airport to check in. I’m in a full sweat, bent over and breathing like I just ran a marathon when I realize the real reason Locker invites me along for these trips: to carry all the crap he doesn’t want to haul around. We meet up with Stealth trainers Ed LeCara and Tony Kearns and make our way to the gate.
8:40am – There was no time to grab some breakfast at the airport, so I board the plane hungry and tired. It’s only an hour flight, so a cat nap is in order.
10:00am – We touch down in Long Beach, and just the smell of the SoCal air makes me nostalgic from my time there. The sun is shining, its warm and the beautiful women are all over the place. My stomach is growling, so Ed, Tony and I go grab a bite at the airport restaurant.
11:30am – I board the plane to Boston, which leaves a half hour late. At least we don’t have to deal with the snow. I know in the past, a number of the Canadian guys on the team have had some serious delays because of the winter weather. Bags have been lost, flights have been missed, but such is the life of an NLL star.
12:07pm – We finally take off. Thank god for Jet Blue and the individual TVs on the plane. Sportscenter provides the perfect background for a five-hour nap. I know some people can’t sleep on planes. I am not one of them. See you in beantown.
8:35pm – it has only been five hours in the air, but eight hours have passed. We lost three hours on the flight from West to East. It’s been a long day of travel so far, and it wont be over anytime soon. We meet at baggage claim with the rest of the team; almost all of the players and coaches have arrived. Everyone is in good spirits as they catch up after a week away from one another. I notice a Dunkin Donuts nearby. If there’s one thing I miss in California, it is Dunkin Donuts. Why haven’t they moved out West? Do people not like delicious breakfast sandwiches, donuts and coffee in the Golden State? This continues to baffle me to this day (PS Yum Yum Donuts is the worst donut chain in the world).
I grab my sausage, egg and cheese on a croissant, and get back to where the team is waiting. The bus should be here any minute to take us to the practice facility, which is conveniently (note: I could not be more sarcastic when I say conveniently) located 45 minutes outside of Boston. I run into Stealth Captain Colin Doyle and Goaltender Tyler Richards playing cards. They are pretty fired up about the game, which I had never seen before. They tell me it’s called Schnarple, and Doyle is torching Richards for all he’s worth.
9:31pm – The bus finally arrives, and the boys load up and get ready to go. We watch some game film of Boston on the way. It’s not like the NFL where teams are together each day breaking down film and implementing strategies in their daily practices. An NLL team only meets for practice on Fridays before games. Guys watch film on their own during the week to prepare. They will have their team meetings before the game on Saturday morning to talk over strategy. But with the Boston Bruins in town this weekend, there will be no pregame shootaround at the arena tomorrow. Tonight’s practice will be it.
10:22pm – It’s been raining all night in Boston, making the bus ride to the practice facility more treacherous down the Mass Pike. The Boston Blazers are currently on the floor, finishing up their only practice of the weekend. The Stealth players hit the dressing rooms to change, get treatment from the trainers and have their equipment readied for practice.
The lacrosse community is small, and as the Blazers players leave the floor, many of them are friends of their Stealth counterparts and they exchange pleasantries as they pass. That’s one thing about the NLL I find fascinating. These guys all know one another, have played with one another growing up and in college and for the most part, get along really well. They go out on the floor and do battle against one another every week and occasionally exchange punches, but afterwards go out and have a couple adult beverages and laugh it off together. I can’t imagine that happening in other professional sports. Do you think Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza went out for a beer and laughed off the time when Clemens threw the bat at Piazza? I don’t.
12:30am – Practice ends and the team leaves the floor and grabs some sandwiches for dinner (or in this case, a midnight snack). I’m sitting here typing and they all come over and ask for scores of the games going on in the NLL tonight. Minnesota picked up a win over Toronto (which doesn’t help the Stealth at all. The Swarm are fighting us for the fourth and final playoff spot right now) and Philly became our new best friends after beating Edmonton. We wrap up a few sandwiches and take them on the bus for the 45-minute trek back into Boston.
1:54am – We arrive at the hotel right in the middle of downtown Boston a mere 20 hours after having left San Jose. The West Coast guys’ biological clocks are still three hours behind, making it 11pm in their minds (well at least my mind). Time for a good night’s sleep, maybe see what movies are playing on TV to wind down before bed. It’s been a long day, and just the first of a long weekend. The boys all retire to their respective rooms and play tomorrow night’s slugfest with the Blazers in their heads. Wake-up calls will come all too early; team meetings follow breakfast at 9am. Tomorrow is game day and the Stealth are looking to pull back to .500 on the season.
See you tomorrow, it’s lights out for the boys in Boston. You Stay Stealthy, San Jose.