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Long journey from home: Baseball and softball start first few weeks on the road

The+Ithaca+College+baseball+and+softball+teams+take+long+road+trips+each+season.+Neither+team+will+return+to+its+home+field+until+baseball+returns+March+22+and+softball+returns+March+23.%0A
Emma Kersting, Makai Yllanes
The Ithaca College baseball and softball teams take long road trips each season. Neither team will return to its home field until baseball returns March 22 and softball returns March 23.

Members of Ithaca College’s softball and baseball teams will have to wait a few weeks into the season to enjoy home-field advantage, but that will not stop players from making the most of the start of the season. 

Kostrinsky Field will not see any action until March 23, when the softball team will play its first game at home against Nazareth University after 12 games on the road. Over the next week, the softball team will travel to Clermont, Florida, to play its spring break series in the sun. Softball head coach Kelly Robichaud said the team does not let being on the road impact the players’ headspace.

“We’re really lucky and fortunate that we get to go down to Florida and be in 70 to 80-degree weather,” Robichaud said. “It’s a good opportunity to go out and play in the sunshine and get our skills up to where they need to be so that when we come back and start our non-conference and conference play, we’re in a really good spot.” 

Robichaud said the team prepares to play in dynamic weather conditions by practicing in all conditions, rain or shine. She said the team will play on turf, natural fields and indoor surfaces to prepare for any field they could encounter on the road.

In terms of the mentality of being away, Robichaud said the team is used to having long stretches of away game bus rides and crowds.

“We’re road warriors,” Robichaud said. “We know what to expect because, essentially, we don’t know anything else.”

Two states up the east coast from the softball team, the college’s baseball team will tee up in Lexington, South Carolina.

Baseball head coach David Valesente said the team plays its first weeks of the season on the road because Freeman Field has natural grass which is not conducive to Ithaca’s variable climate. He said teams try to play in warmer climates earlier on in the season.

“We schedule at least our first 12 games away and on the road,” Valesente said. “Certainly we’d love to be playing those at home, but we have to be realistic with the weather and the conditions that we’re given.”

With the exception of Rochester Institute of Technology, Bard College, Union College and Vassar College, most other Liberty League baseball teams also schedule their first 7–24 games away from home.

The baseball team will be home for the first time this season March 22, playing Clarkson University. Junior baseball player Collin Feeney said that playing on the road can be challenging because other colleges’ fields can be unpredictable.

“We took advantage of going on to Higgins field and working on how ground balls or fly balls would feel on turf,” Feeney said. “Preparing for our environment is definitely very doable no matter where we are on our campus just because there’s so many different options.”

Junior softball player Olivia Comolli said one of the hardest parts about being away is the bus rides. She said that to counteract the strain of travel, the players put their phones away before arriving at the opposing college and get hyped up together with music and cheering.

Comolli said another challenge is when the opposing team has loud fans cheering against the Bombers.

“It’s harder to work through that, just in a mental toughness sort of way,” Comolli said. “You can definitely get in a groove easier [at home]. When you’re … not on your home field, it’s definitely harder for the infield to get into the groove or the outfield to get into the groove.”

Not every away crowd is full of opposing fans, though. Senior softball player Belle de Oliveira said the parents of softball players are very supportive at home games and continue that support on the road. She said parents will drive hours to cheer the players on.

“It’s just a family feeling and a feeling of support,” de Oliveira said. “That’s what I think is really special about our team.”

De Oliveira said teammates will support each other when the majority of the crowd is cheering for the opposing team. She said that staying focused is important in softball and knowing there is a group of people who have her back can help with the stress.

“Softball is a sport that you have to stay focused,” de Oliveira said. “When I’m focused, in the box, I just block out everything else out there. And it helps when our team is cheering and rowdy. I think we have a pretty rowdy team. We got a lot of cheers going on. It definitely helps no matter what field we’re on.”

Feeney said the baseball players also rely on each other while on the road, both on and off the field.

“We really turn to each other,” Feeney said. “Most of the times we’re gonna be on a bus for more than three hours and spend a lot of time in the hotel with each other. A lot of the time when you’re off the field, you’ve got to find ways to just bond with each other, entertain each other.”

Valesente said the start of the season is inherently exciting and he builds off that to create a positive environment going into away games.

“The guys are excited to get on the road and go play,” Valesente said. “They ultimately want to be playing in games and starting to compete. Certainly being outside is exciting. … It’s still great to be able to go to some warmer areas and get outside and play.”

Robichaud said the excitement of the season, getting outside, and working toward a common goal can unite players in the face of a challenge. She said that connection is important to being successful at home and away.

“It’s one of the cool things about sports is that you have a group of people working toward a common vision and a common goal,” Robichaud said. “That’s something that we talk about a lot and that’s going to bond people right away. That connection is going to be built in.”

Feeney said shared goals and teammates’ support for each other can fill the gap when the stands are not filled with friendly faces.

“We just have a winning mentality and we … just want to win the game,” Feeney said. “So no matter where we go, we’re gonna show up and play our brand of baseball and dominate. That’s really what it is.”

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