Nate Hanson scanned the St. Paul Saints schedule and noticed a stretch of games that stood out like a Las Vegas marquee.
One road trip, 14 games in 14 days — all by bus.
From St. Paul to Joplin, Mo., to Laredo, Texas, to Amarillo, Texas, to Sioux Falls and back home.
“That’s going to be a long one,” Hanson thought to himself.
Historically long, actually. No Saints team in franchise history has endured a longer road trip.
In games, or perhaps miles covered.
The trip consisted of four bus rides of 10-plus hours and 3,063 miles traveled.
The team bus rolled back into St. Paul at 12:30 a.m. Monday, which felt like an early-bird arrival compared with some of the other stops.
Long bus rides are a way of life for professional baseball players below the major league level. This trip felt different even to veterans. Their 14-day odyssey deserves “I survived” commemorative T-shirts.
“I’ve never been on a trip like that,” long-time manager George Tsamis said.
The road trip was necessitated by CHS Field being used for the high school state baseball tournament. Happens every year, just never this long.
Owner Mike Veeck calls it a “terrible inconvenience” that stresses his team competitively. But he also loves opening his stadium to high school teams and he’s not changing that.
“I believe it’s the right thing to do,” Veeck said. “It’s what we should do.”
The Saints did all their traveling overnight after games. They charter a coach bus that features seats that recline to sleepers with a top and lower bunk.
Hanson, a former Twins draft pick and minor leaguer since 2008, always takes the bottom bunk.
“Little bit darker down there,” he said.
Infielder Tanner Vavra had his own trick for sleeping: a sleep mask that he got on a flight to Australia last year.
Veteran infielder Angelo Songco needed no such help.
“I could sleep on this [floor] right now if I wanted,” he said. “Any position I can sleep in.”
A few players and support staff took the advice of pitcher Mark Hamburger, another former Twins prospect, and bought a camping hammock to hang inside the bus.
They attached their hammocks to overhead storage bins, four total, spacing them from the front of the bus to the back.
“I was a little skeptical at first and then I climbed in it,” athletic trainer Jason Ellenbecker said. “It was the best sleep I’ve ever gotten on a bus. It was unbelievable.”
There was one side effect. The hammocks sway with the bus, causing Ellenbecker to feel wobbly once he stood.
“It’s like, whoa, I’ve got to work on walking straight again,” he said.
The team passed time by playing cards, sleeping, listening to music and, because the bus is equipped with DirecTV, watching the NBC series “The Blacklist.” They’re all hooked on that show now.
“It just makes trips better when you have something to take your mind off sitting on a bus,” Tsamis said.
How does one pack for a 14-day trip?
“Lots of shirts, lots of underwear,” Songco said.
Tsamis bought new socks before the trip, but one park was a close enough walk to wear flip-flops.
“So I didn’t have to wear socks,” he said.
Most players did laundry on the trip. Hanson did one load but only because he wanted to kill time. He fancies himself an expert packer from years of experience.
“I can pack for a while in a small suitcase,” he said.
The long bus rides meant the team didn’t arrive in a city until after sunup. They got to Sioux Falls at 2 p.m., five hours before the first pitch.
“Nobody likes it, but if you go out there and you’re still mad about that, then you’re going to play bad,” Vavra said. “You just suck it up and grind through it.”
The Saints embraced that attitude, posting a 9-5 record with five consecutive wins to close the trip.
“It’s not so bad when you win some games,” Tsamis said. “When you’re losing games then you can cry about it.”
A few players even got a reprieve at the end. Songco’s wife and two young kids traveled to Sioux Falls for the series. They drove back together after Monday’s game.
Hanson did the same thing with his wife, arriving home at 10:45 p.m. — nearly two hours ahead of the bus.
“I was OK with that,” he said, smiling.
The Saints open the season with 28 consecutive games before their first scheduled day off. That comes Thursday.
“I’m going to do nothing,” Tsamis declared.
Well, he does have one thing to do that night. The bus leaves for Winnipeg at midnight. A six-game road trip beckons.
Piece of cake.
“It won’t be any worse than what we just did,” Hanson said.