Road warriors: 'Dores find success traveling like rock stars

Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 1:48am

Of all the times Vanderbilt sang a victory tune during its recently completed baseball season, some of the most memorable occurred in road games.

Perhaps that’s not a coincidence given the fact that the Commodores actually adopted a musical approach to travel at one point.

A connection to Lady Antebellum’s female vocalist and songwriter, Hillary Scott, led coach Tim Corbin and his staff to rethink their approach to travel in certain situations this spring. While the evidence was not conclusive, early indications were that it is something worth continuing in future seasons.

Specifically, for road trips that lasted about eight hours, players and coaches packed into two sleeper buses and departed at approximately midnight Wednesday for a weekend series that started on Friday.

The idea was that players could sleep through the night and maintain a normal rest schedule. They practiced on Thursday, went to bed at a normal time again that night and then played the first game of the weekend on Friday.

“I can’t take any credit for any success that they (had), but I’m glad they did well,” Scott said. “It definitely helps your performance when you have a good night’s sleep, and for them, they’ll play a game after having traveled just like we’ll play a show.”

Discovering the key to winning

Vanderbilt finished the season 37-27 overall and ranked 28th in the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll. It lost in the championship game of the SEC tournament and then came within one game of advancing to the super regionals for just the second time in program history.

Fifteen of those victories came in road or neutral-site games, but included among those 15 were some of the more notable triumphs of the season.

“We had what I figured were 12 turning-point victories during the season,” Corbin said. “Of those, 11 of them came on the road. I’m talking about games that we really needed to win either because of impact on the standings or because we were in a losing streak.

“I don’t know what the reason for that was, but it was certainly a part of who we were this season.”

Two of those “turning point” victories came at Arkansas. The Commodores won 9-0 on April 10 and 13-9 the next day against a Razorbacks’ team that was ranked No. 1 at the time in at least one national poll. VU ultimately did not complete a three-game sweep, but then again it never got the chance. The final game of the series was cancelled by rain.

It just so happened that also was the first time Corbin went with the music industry travel plan, which he first learned of during a conversation with a member of his office staff whose roommate is Scott.

“They were just talking about how all bands when they have to travel to a concert, leave that night and they just sleep as if they’re going to bed,” Corbin said. “I figured that’s pretty good because if you don’t do that, then you go to bed and you probably get on buses first thing in the morning and then you sleep all day. Really, you’re getting more sleep than you need.”

Comfy and cozy

The sleeper buses typically chartered by Vanderbilt — it used them even before it adopted the practice — include 12 bunks as well as two separate living areas, which can be used for sleep as well.

The bunks all have a curtain that pulls shut and, according to most, provides a near-perfect environment in which to snooze.

“You sleep like a baby,” sophomore pitcher Caleb Cotham said. “I didn’t have a problem sleeping. Pretty much everyone just conked out as soon as we got on the bus.”

That was no surprise to Scott, whose current touring schedule in support of the vocal group’s debut album includes roughly four nights each week spent in one of those bunks. In her case, she said they typically depart a city around 10 or 11 p.m. and arrive in time for breakfast at the next stop.

“I almost sleep better on the bus now than I do at home,” she said. “It’s pretty comfortable and those bunks are completely dark. You can never get a room in a house as dark as those bunks get.”

There is one variable, though, that she said must be considered.

“If you get a good driver, you can sleep straight through,” she noted. “You definitely don’t want a swervy driver, and you learn to appreciate the ones who miss the potholes.”

Looking ahead

Following the success of the Arkansas trip, the Commodores tried it again when they went to South Carolina the first weekend in May. That one did not work out as well as the Gamecocks won all three contests by an average of more than six runs per game.

Still, Corbin believed he stumbled onto something and the players expressed wide support of the tactic.

“You get to sleep the whole bus ride, so it helps with your schedule at least because you don’t feel like you’re really traveling,” Cotham said. “You get to sleep in a bed the whole way so you get there in the morning and you’re already there. Body-wise, it’s easier to recover from a long travel.”

In 2010, Vanderbilt will make trips to Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State for SEC series. The non-conference portion of the schedule has not yet been released.

Of those, LSU and Florida are the longest and provide the best opportunity to put the overnight travel theory to the test once again. Typically, though, for Florida the team takes a commercial flight into Orlando or Jacksonville and then commutes to Gainesville.

“(The sleeper bus) is a lot nicer than flying because there’s no real bags to check or anything like that,” Cotham said. “It’s less of a hassle and you get to relax a little more.”

And that, theoretically, leads to a better performance — whether it’s on stage or in the field.

“I just want to try to keep them in the same sleep patterns as much as I can within that time,” Corbin said. “Those beds are nice enough.

“The only one who doesn’t get a bed, really, is myself and the bus driver. The kids sleep pretty well.”

Kind of like rock stars, you might say.