Dirk Hayhurst is a 26-year-old righthanded reliever in the Padres system who has spent parts of three seasons at high Class A Lake Elsinore.
Though he made it all the way to Triple-A Portland last season, Hayhurst began this year back with the Storm, officially making him a California League veteran.
The 2003 eighth-round pick out of Kent State is writing a diary for Baseball America this season, delving into the side of the minor leagues fans seldom see.
Yesterday was the first game of the 2007 season, which in itself is significant.
Getting back out on the ball field, facing the enemy, numbers being recorded, it all speaks to set the tone for the year. Fortunately we have learned to expect this over the years, we know how it goes–no surprises.
Besides the obvious things that come along with the Opening Day, there are a few not so obvious things that can be just as, if not more so, impacting on the tone of the season.
First off, this season opener was a road trip. Not a long one, just an hour-long commuter. The Quakes, our opponent, are a mere stone’s throw up the freeway from Lake Elsinore.
Don’t let the short distance fool you though, it’s a way bigger deal then you think. You see, bus seating is an integral part of minor league life. Getting to the bus first on a travel day is crucial. If you are on the bus first, you have shot a laying claim to some prime seating. Come late and you are going to be stuck with the “Latin kid who loves refried beans and thinks it’s hilarious when everyone has to cover their noses with their shirts when he gases the place.”
Men do not like sitting close to other men. And I when I say close, I mean slightly touching, like a fraction of a fraction of man on man is enough to make things awkward. Besides, those bus seats are not really seats. I know those bus companies would make you believe they are seats, but we all know the truth. Those seats were designed to take as many tourists to Disneyland as the bus companies can cram into them. It’s not exactly designed for your 220-plus pound ball player. We spill out of those things like . . . um . . . something funny that spills out of seats?
I am not sure if it’s because we are men and it violates some unwritten man law to be to close to another man. Maybe it’s just a baseball player thing?
Maybe it’s just a North American male thing? Something about our culture I suppose. I used to hear stories back in my college classes about how men from European countries would walk down the street holding hands or arm in arm and that behavior was perfectly heterosexual to them. Well, I dare you to try asking one of the guys on the team if they, “wouldn’t mind holding your hand” while you go check out some protein mix at GNC. I am sure that will fly. You may need treatment after you ask. Actually, come to think of it, we do smack each other on the butt a lot. I mean a lot. No other job I know of smacks butts as often as we do. I still wouldn’t risk it.
So on our first day, our first game, and our first commute, we followed suit with strict adherence to the unwritten laws above. As the bus pulled in, we all bunched together and fought for who would get onto the bus first. I got on pretty early so I got lucky.
Now, I should explain, that there is some convoluted seating arrangement system for players. There is some, again unwritten, seating clause that supposedly guarantees older guys their own seats no matter what so there doesn’t have to be any drama over who gets what seat. Something about time spent at a higher level, plus years at the current level, multiplied by years in a system, minus propensity for flatulence . . . I am not really sure–I’ve never been very good at math. All I know is this is my fourth year at the Lake, and I also had the most time spent at a higher level. I am an old man, and grandpas get their own seat.
In fact, since I have spent so much time at Lake Elsinore, the guys were talking about giving me my own row of seats, maybe even knocking out a row and putting in some amenities like a recliner or a micro-fridge just for me.
I told them not to get my hopes up, though the recliner would be awesome. So I got on, and wrestled my way back to my seat of choice.
Occupied–but not for long. I launched into some spiel about my age, times number of years minus flatulence plus . . . blah-blah-blah. I think the guy just left the seat so I would shut up more then anything else. Thanks.
It should be noted this bus was a small bus. There were going to be some unhappy campers because it looked like there just wasn’t going to be enough seats for all the older fellas to get one with out having a seatmate. You would be amazed at how bitter we can get about this.
Now I know this sounds extremely trivial, and it is. I mean, it’s just sharing a seat. It’s not even sharing a seat, it’s letting someone sit in the unoccupied seat next to you. But it’s the principle of the thing!
That open space next to you is huge. You can sit in one seat, then maybe sit in the other for while, you know, switch it up, shock the body.
You can put your Gatorade on the open seat next to you, so it can ride in comfort. You can try and sleep across both seats in the fetal position. You can make a sandwich on it. You could make a fort out of pillows. Hell, I don’t know, it’s your seat, you can do what you want. You can do anything with it, plus there is nobody next to you farting or touching your thigh with their knee or whatever.
Besides, if you got time, you earned that seat. You already did your tour of duty doubled up with the gassy guy who doesn’t speak any English aside from, “steeeenky” . . . and that’s not even English (technically, unless you’re driving down I-95 seeing all those ‘Pedro Says’ signs for South of the Border).
Not getting your own seat when you’ve earned it is a heartbreak and it seriously can turn into some on the field bitterness. Of course nobody is going to tell a reporter they pitched bad because they were so mad about not getting their own seat on the bus, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it has come into play before.
When you’re the last guy on the bus and everyone has their seats, time or not, you’re in a pickle. You have to sit someplace! You might as well be a leper though, because no one wants to give up a spare seat to you. No one. I have even seen guys put dark sunglasses on and pretend to sleep as you walked by them. I have seen guys take big breaths and spread out like they are way bigger as if to tell you wouldn’t want to sit next to them anyway.
You would be amazed how long a person can pace the aisle of a bus before someone gives way to him. Even those guys who know they should be doubled up pretend they are suddenly big leaguers. See, I told you its crucial to get there early!
Those rules above are made to honor and respect guys who’ve earned it . . . I think. I mean, I am not sure where any of these bus rules came from to begin with but from the gist of things, that seems to be the purpose of having them. I honestly don’t think anyone really knows where they came from, and most of the time they don’t really work without a little drama–but they are a part of the game. One you probably never thought existed.
If you’d like to ask Dirk a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.