Biloxi Shuckers set off on 55-game road trip

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Pitcher Brooks Hall won't get on the bus without his noise-canceling headphones.

First baseman Nick Ramirez needs his PlayStation 4, and he makes sure there's plenty of caffeine on hand.

Most players making a living in minor league baseball like Hall and Ramirez have a secret remedy or two for dealing with life on the road.

The Biloxi Shuckers are about to put those remedies to the test.

Over the next two months, Hall, Ramirez and the rest of the Milwaukee Brewers' Double-A affiliate will embark on a scheduled 55-game road trip, one of the longest in recent memory.

The team is piling on a bus for a mammoth road swing through the Southeast: Pensacola-Mobile-Jacksonville-Pensacola-Huntsville-Jackson (Mississippi)-Jackson (Tennessee)-Huntsville-Chattanooga-Birmingham.

"By the end of this thing," Ramirez said with a grin, "we might need a little break from each other."

Welcome to the current life of the Shuckers, who play in the Southern League.

The franchise moved from Huntsville to Biloxi in the offseason, lured partly by the promise of a $36 million stadium. It is expected to a beautiful facility -- eventually.

Due to various issues, including construction delays, it probably won't be ready for two more months.

In the meantime, there will be a lot of bus rides, hotels and trips to Applebee's. The expected toll: 60 straight nights in a hotel, 55 games, nine different cities and some frayed nerves.

The journey begins Thursday night when the Shuckers play the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

"It's a unique experience, and we've just got to adjust as we go along," Biloxi manager Carlos Subero said. "It's a lot of games, so managing fatigue is going to be a feel thing for the coaching staff.

"Honestly, the thing I'm most concerned about is the lack of privacy. Sometimes you need it. You might see a few guys walking around the local mall trying to find a little alone time."

The extended road trip is a rare situation in professional baseball, though not entirely unprecedented. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees -- the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees -- played their entire 144-game schedule away from home in 2012 because of stadium renovations. But the Yankees at least had a semi-permanent base in Rochester, New York, where they played 37 "home" games that season.

The Shuckers won't have that luxury.

They do, however, have Buck Rogers.

No, not the fictional astronaut traveling through space in the late 1970s, but the team's general manager who is in his 19th season working in minor league baseball.

"What we're trying to do is make sure all these guys have to do is concentrate on baseball," Rogers said. "It's not an ideal situation, but we want to make the best of it."

The Shuckers' trip will be all road games from Thursday until June 6, when the home opener in downtown Biloxi is tentatively scheduled. Even that date isn't etched in stone.

Video updates on the team's website show a stadium that's far from completed. A rainy spring could delay construction even further.

Nobody wants to think about that.

"Believe me, we want to be in our stadium as soon as possible," Rogers said.

There have been a few long Major League Baseball road trips, though nothing this extreme.

Of course, MLB players get a big league salary to deal with road life. The lowest-paid Shuckers are subsisting on $1,500 a month and $25 per day in meal money while on road trips.

By contrast, major leaguers get $100.50 daily per diem, and their minimum salary is $507,500 this season.

Rogers flew to Arizona to the Brewers' spring training facility last week to try to answer questions from players, who were understandably anxious about the unique situation.

The GM said the Southern League's leadership, along with other general managers across the league, have been gracious about helping the Shuckers when possible. The team has arranged to have players' personal laundry done once in each city, and Rogers has secured parking at a local hotel in Biloxi so that players can store their cars.

The team is also paying for players who are bringing families to have their own hotel room instead of the usual arrangement of two players to a room.

Subero said the most important thing is that the players don't allow the nuisance of a long road trip interfere with their development as baseball players.

"If for some reason we lose 10 straight games, it's because we're playing bad baseball, not because we've been on the road," Subero said.

If it's any consolation, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre actually won its division during its nomadic 2012 season, finishing with an 84-60 record.

Shuckers pitcher Austin Ross, who is in his fifth season in the Brewers' organization, said he doesn't expect the trip to be that bad. His secret on the road: a few books to take his mind off the day-to-day grind.

"You get used to packing light after a few years playing minor league ball," Ross said. "The good thing is we're able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we know the new stadium is going to be great."

Until then, there are always those noise-canceling headphones.

"I'm telling you, that's the secret," the 24-year-old Hall said, laughing. "Those things are legit."