On the road, again
Your first assignment: Visit any Frontier League clubhouse and ask for opinions on the league's schedule and ways to improve it. It shouldn't take long to find somebody who has a complaint. The schedule always is highly scrutinized, and it seems as if every player and coach thinks either his team is getting shafted by the schedulemaker or some other team is getting scheduling favors from the league office.
To the Frontier League's credit, it has been willing to change its scheduling format to help teams cut down on travel time and costs, create more off days and eliminate some scheduling quirks. One thing I disliked years ago was teams playing all their games against an interdivision opponent in consecutive weeks. That has been eliminated, in part because of the 7-team divisions.
This year, the big change in the schedule is the significant increase in doubleheaders. There are 23 scheduled doubleheaders, including eight at Evansville and six at Washington. There are many reasons for this, from having to open the park fewer nights, to women's pro softball needing a date, to helping the Greys with their travel, etc. Only five of the 13 teams with home ballparks have scheduled doubleheaders. Three of those five -- Evansville, Traverse City and Normal -- finished in the top five in home attendance last year.
It will be interesting to see if the doubleheaders and added off days will hurt or help Evansville, Washington and Florence (five doubleheaders) on the field and at the gate.
One thing almost everybody complains about in the Frontier League is the travel. With teams spread from Pennsylvania to Missouri, and at least one interdivision game every night, scheduling easy and sensible road trips is not always possible. Whoever the poor soul is who makes the schedule, you have a difficult and thankless job. Everybody thinks they have a bad schedule compared to (fill in the blank with another team). You can't please everyone, no matter how hard you try.
So which teams have a bad schedule this year? One way of determining this is to check the miles each team will travel. The following chart is the mileage each team will travel along with the difference from 2013. When calculating the mileage for each team, I did not take into account if a team travels back and forth each night to play a close rival. For example, when Windy City plays at Joliet, it might opt to drive the 52 miles roundtrip each day of the series instead of one 26-mile trip and three-night stay in Joliet. I credit Windy City for one 26-mile trip.
Also, if a team has consecutive off days (something new to the schedule this year), I assume the ballclub will return to its home city on these days, even if it has a road game after the off days.
One other travel note: the Greys will be based this year out of Highland, Ill., located about 30 minutes northeast of St. Louis. In past seasons, they were based out of Avon, Ohio.
Miles Team (Difference from 2013)
11,888 -- Greys (102 fewer)
10,522 -- Traverse City (1,143 more)
9,392 -- Lake Erie (2 more)
9,171 -- Washington (1,243 more)
9,090 -- Evansville (1,600 more)
7,503 -- Rockford (199 more)
7,410 -- River City (634 fewer)
7,352 -- Southern Illinois (555 fewer)
7,215 -- Florence (631 fewer)
6,936 -- Gateway (261 fewer)
6,675 -- Windy City (1,025 more)
6,565 -- Schaumburg (448 fewer)
6,287 -- Normal (610 more)
5,766 -- Joliet (428 fewer)
Last year, only the Greys logged more miles than Lake Erie, and Windy City traveled the fewest miles. This year, seven teams will log more miles on the road than last year and seven other will do less traveling, though in the case of Lake Erie it's about 3 fewer minutes spent on the highway.
Scanning the schedule, there were a few things that stood out. One was that Traverse City's travel in the seasons' first half can be best described with one word: brutal. From the season opener through May 26, the Beach Bums will travel 1,414 miles. Over the same period, Gateway will travel 84 miles. And by June 6, Traverse City's bus will have logged 2,587 miles -- about half of what Joliet will travel all season -- while division rival Florence will have traveled only 775 miles at that point.
There is an odd situation with the Greys' schedule in August. They will play a series-ending doubleheader Aug. 3 at Washington, then have two off days before starting a series at Traverse City. If the Greys go directly to Traverse City, the league will be paying for two days of lodging for the team without it playing a game. If the Greys go from Washington back to Highland, Ill., for an off day before going to Traverse City, that trip will be a whopping 1,102 miles, which would be the record for miles traveled between series.
One last note: Even with all the doubleheaders and consecutive off days in the schedule, only three teams will be traveling extra miles because of these (on the road, return home for 2 off days, then go back on the road). Those teams are Normal, Gateway and the Greys.