ORONO, Maine — Wednesday night, the University of Maine baseball team departed Mahaney Diamond at about 8 p.m. and headed back to their apartments, houses and dormitory rooms.
Shortly after 5 a.m., the Black Bears began arriving again at Mahaney Clubhouse as they prepared to head back out on the road.
Travel is part of being a Division I student-athlete, but that dynamic is magnified at UMaine, whose closest conference opponent in most sports is nearly three hours away in Durham, N.H.
For baseball, the closest league opponent is located five-plus hours away in Hartford, Conn.
UMaine’s baseball team has the most arduous travel schedule of any team on campus. Part of that stems from the late-winter weather in the Northeast, which forces coach Steve Trimper’s Bears to seek warmer climates to play early-season games.
Wednesday’s home opener came after 25 consecutive games outside the state, including contests in South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Virginia.
Thursday’s early departure came as the Bears prepared to open their America East season Friday at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The trip, including a couple of brief stops, was expected to take some 13 hours.
Far too often, the lives of Division I student-athletes are glamorized, as if they are somehow just off playing games and enjoying the benefits of scholarship money and notoriety.
The bleary eyes of the baseball players as they climbed back aboard yet another Cyr motorcoach told a different story. Yet they view it as but a small price to pay for the chance to play the game they love.
Baseball isn’t a sport swimming in scholarship money. Trimper has 9.5 equivalencies to be divided among about 20 of the 30 players on the roster. No player on the team has more than 70 percent of a scholarship.
The NCAA allows 11.7 scholarships for Division I baseball and anyone on scholarship must receive at least 25 percent of the maximum if offered athletic aid.
There are a lot of rides — but no free rides — for UMaine baseball.
Climbing on a bus several times a year to visit Albany, Binghamton and Stony Brook in New York, Hartford, and Baltimore is no picnic. And even after arriving at their destination, the Bears’ accommodations include three people per room.
UMaine baseball’s travel allowance for meals is $20 per student-athlete, per day. Parents who attend the games often provide sandwiches for the players between games.
By the time the Black Bears roll back into Orono early on Easter morning, the team will already have logged more than 4,000 bus miles since opening the season Feb. 24 at Clemson.
That doesn’t even include the plane flights from Bangor to South Carolina, via Boston, and then from Bangor to Norfolk, Va., and back last weekend. And UMaine still has to take future bus trips to Binghamton, Amherst, Mass., Albany, Boston, Hartford and Portland.
All the while, the student-athletes still must account for lost class time by keeping up with their schoolwork and other commitments not directly related to baseball.
Trimper said one of they key benefits of traveling together so extensively is that the players are able to build their camaraderie, although they can occasionally get on each other’s nerves.
It’s an annual grind but, in the end, all the travel is part of the road to success for the UMaine baseball team.