Day one of a five day trip to NCAA Regionals
Fordham softball has reached its fourth NCAA Regional in the past five years. WFUV Sports’ Mike Watts traveled with the team to Tallahassee, Florida for the Rams’ postseason adventure. Here are some of the sights and thoughts from the trip.
As I groggily strode into the Lombardi Center, a dozen Fordham softball players were already wide awake at the door waiting to walk in. Some of the players told me that this was actually a later start than the Fordham softball team was used to, arriving at 7:15am to pack their gear for a 10:00am flight to Atlanta. That would be the first leg of a two part flight to Tallahassee Regional Airport and the team was budgeting for some midweek morning traffic and some struggles at the airport.
Despite the early morning hour, the team was excited and outgoing from the outset. By 7:45, the traveling party of 30 departed by bus from Rose Hill. Seniors looking out the left side of the bus saw a set of newly constructed stairs leading to the Victory Bell, which they had rung just four days earlier (without the help of a staircase, I might add) when they won the Atlantic 10 title at Bahoshy Field. The stairs were added to allow the less athletically inclined of the Fordham community to ring the bell after they graduate on Saturday. Four softball seniors will forgo the opportunity to walk at graduation or ring that bell again for the opportunity to play #8 Florida State and face either South Carolina or South Florida in the second game of the double elimination regional. The life of a college athlete is filled with these kinds of sacrifices.
Most people probably fail to realize what getting thirty people through a commercial airport entails. Bags have to be tagged, weighed, and sent to the plane; boarding passes have to be printed for both flights of the day; and a convoy of Fordham apparel-clad athletes and administrators must pass through TSA security. Today the security line was short and the bags took 20 minutes. It was the boarding passes that were especially difficult to pass out given the team only found out they’d be traveling to north Florida on Sunday night at 11:20pm during the NCAA selection show. Kudos to whoever managed to find 30 tickets from New York to Tallahassee on short notice.
Both the LaGuardia to Atlanta and Atlanta to Tallahassee flights were packed, meaning the team was spread apart through the plane and saw a fair number of seat exchanges. Some listened to music, others caught up on some sleep they had missed out on during finals week, while still others enjoyed the end of the semester with some non-academic readings (like the most recent edition of Cosmopolitan or a recently released Chelsea Handler book.)
A delayed take off in New York didn’t put the team off schedule despite a slightly longer than one hour layover. A per diem is given to the team at LaGuardia for the travel, enough for breakfast and lunch at the airport. In total, the team spends over seven hours of their first day either in flight or at the airport.
This is the fourth time Fordham softball visited Florida this year, but it’s the first time I had. So when I walked outside of the airport in Tallahassee, I think I was most shocked initially. 90 degrees with high humidity – as one girl put it “nasty.” Luckily the high on Friday for the first game of the tournament is forecast at 73 degrees. By Sunday we will be in the upper 80’s again. I don’t know how Floridians live here over the summer, honestly.
The bottom of the bus failed to open when we boarded at Tallahassee Regional Airport, so 20 players and all of their equipment climbed aboard and we headed to the hotel for half an hour before taking batting practice at the Florida State softball complex at 5:00pm. Despite getting lost on the way, we arrived at Joanne Graf Field to take the two story batting cages for an hour and a half. It’s almost mystifying seeing these girls hit the ball. They are truly remarkable athletes.
By the time practice was over, we were already coming up on dinner on the itinerary, so we skipped a stop at the hotel and went straight to Logan’s Roadhouse. With Seminoles gear everywhere, it was a stark reminder that we were actually in enemy territory.
It was the drive back afterwards though that was my personal induction into this Fordham softball trip. As soon as we boarded the bus, the team started playing a game. Players pick a name, and count down from five. Whoever is picked has to start singing a song, which everyone else follows until it eventually fizzles out. Nobody was safe, not even me. The first four times I was picked, my mind went completely blank. Eventually I realized not even a sore throat was going to save me – Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was enough to get me off the hook for the first night. As one of the players told me later, that exercise will be the extent of my hazing with the team. I’ll need to do better tonight or I might get thrown off the bus altogether.
After a 16 hour day, about half of which was spent traveling the 1,100 miles to the Sunshine State, it’s time to turn the page to Thursday. Tomorrow, practice at Graf Field for them, while I start preparing to call the game on WFUVSports.org.
Check back throughout the week for more updates.