By Cam Huffman
When Texas hits the road to take on Baylor in a Big 12 baseball series this weekend, the Longhorns will travel 113 miles to reach their destination.
West Virginia, meanwhile, will travel 170 miles this weekend for its league series against Kansas.
When WVU takes on the Jayhawks, it will be a “home game” for the Mountaineers.
That’s life in the Big 12 this season for WVU, the newest conference member, which will host KU for a three-game series this weekend at Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley.
Because Hawley Field in Morgantown isn’t up to the standards of Big 12 baseball, WVU has been forced to play its home conference dates at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park, along with the one series this weekend in Beckley.
“It’s been pretty tough,” admitted WVU ace Harrison Musgrave. “It’s a lot of traveling. Somebody said we’ll travel over 20,000 miles or something crazy. But it’s one of those things that you can’t do anything about, so we just have to handle it the best we can.
“We’re not missing a lot. We just don’t get to sleep in our own beds. And that makes it challenging. You never feel comfortable, even when you’re staying in a nice hotel.”
There’s also the issue of keeping up with the academic side of being a student-athlete.
Managing practice, games, workouts and time in the training room with classes and studying is hard enough for an average student-athlete. But WVU has to board buses every Thursday just to play a weekend series at “home.”
“Trying to keep them on top of their classes has been a challenge,” admitted first-year head coach Randy Mazey. “We’ve actually had our academic advisor travel with us on several trips, and we have tutors go to our kids’ classes and audio tape the lectures and download them to the internet, so our kids can listen to them while they’re on the road. I don’t know of another college baseball team that goes to those lengths to make sure they’re kids are succeeding academically.”
Then there’s the fatigue that comes with so much travel.
“Kids get tired,” said Mazey. “I get tired, and I don’t have to play. I can imagine how they feel sometimes. But we knew going into it that it was going to be a grind, so we prepared them accordingly. They’re handling it just fine so far.”
The numbers back up Mazey’s statement. Picked to finish at the bottom of the Big 12, WVU is in the middle of the pack. A team that won just 2x games last year — as Big East member — is 23-18 this season and 6-6 in the Big 12. It’s coming off a series win on the road against Texas, one of college baseball’s traditional powers.
“They’re doing great with it,” said Mazey. “They know they have to sleep in hotels and ride on buses and airplanes more than anybody else, but they know what they’re getting into and how to deal with it.”
“I’d say routine is the biggest thing,” said Musgrave of his team’s secret to success. “We all have our own routines on the road. Just because we’re traveling, we should still be able to do what we need to do to get things done.
“I didn’t think we’d do this well this early,” Musgrave continued, admitting that he wasn’t sure how his team would match up in one of college baseball’s top conferences. “I figured once we got our feet under us, we’d be a little bit better. But we’re not as overmatched as people think. I don’t see any of our starters being overmatched by any situation. Our players look like they should be in the Big 12, and I think that shocks people. We belong where we are, and I think we can still do better.”
The Mountaineers’ ability to go toe-to-toe with every team on the schedule has created some buzz that’s long been missing from the program. That’s drawn bigger and bigger crowds at WVU has traveled throughout the Mountain State.
“If you’re a Mountaineer fan, no matter what part of the state you live in, the Mountaineers are going to come close to you at some point,” said Mazey. “You don’t really have to travel to Morgantown to see us play.
“It’s good for our kids to experience different things and expose our program to people who normally wouldn’t get a chance to see it.”
And Mazey is expecting more of the same when his team hits the field at Linda K. Epling Stadium Friday at 6:30 p.m.
‘I went down there last summer and looked around,” said Mazey of his only previous trip to Beckley. “I really liked what I saw, and I’m anxious to see the people down there.
“I tell the fans all the time, ‘Don’t just come out to the games for entertainment value. Come out because you can really have an impact on the outcome of the game.’ If our kids look up there and see the stands packed with gold shirts, that gives us energy and enthusiasm, and usually they respond pretty well to that.”
– E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.