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When I first climbed up the stairs into the Chiefland baseball bus, a familiar smell washed over me. It was the odor of sweaty socks, something most athletic buses take on as players shed shoes for a long road trip.
On this trip, we were headed to Jacksonville Providence for the Indians' regional semifinal game against the Stallions.
To pass the time on the nearly three-hour trip, players sent text messages, listened to tunes on iPods or surfed the Internet on their smart phones. Others played a board game called "Things" that was introduced to them by assistant coach Chad Brock, who turns 25 this month and could've been mistaken for one of the players during the trip as he laughed and had what appeared to be a fun time with players in the back of the bus.
A few, like seniors Brent Slaughter and Quis Green, caught some Zs in the middle rows while classmates P.J. Allen and Josh Martinez gazed out the window. It was a long ride, and even coach Kyle Parnell appeared to doze off a few times late in the drive to the game.
Along the way, bus driver Joseph Wain broke up the trip by stopping at the Western Steer restaurant in Starke. A convoy of parents and fans that were following the bus stopped as well.
Players pigged out on chicken and mash potatoes, among other things, while also hitting the dessert kiosk. No players were seen eating salad.
Back on the road, players continued passing the time in much of the same way until driving through Jacksonville on Interstate 10, where they peered out windows at the buildings of downtown.
"Where are we Coach?" shouted freshman James Corbin.
"Tampa!" Parnell fired back.
Corbin continued the joke for a while, adding that "This mush be St. Pete," as we traveled to the outskirts of town, searching for Providence High.
A few miles away, Parnell pointed to his watch as if to say, "It's time to get serious." And most players, almost instantly, put their game faces on before arriving at the shiny digs of Providence's field.
After unloading the bus - freshman, being freshman, had to tote most of the gear to the dugout — players began taking batting practices in the cages along the left field fence.
Behind home plate, the field had "2 TIM 1:7" painted on it and there were palm tress behind the backstop. There also was a sign that featured all of the Stallions college/professional players. Another sign showed that the private school, established in 1999, had reached the regional semifinals 10 of the 11 seasons it has fielded a baseball team.
About 100 Chieflandians attended the game, and dozens began showing up an hour before the first pitch. Their eardrums were pushed to the brink by Christian music that was turned up so loud on the public address system that God may have been able to hear it.
After the game, a 10-2 CHS loss, parents and players meandered around behind the visitor's dugout, not leaving until the lights were turned out as if they wanted to hold on to the 2011 season just a little bit longer.
On the bus, the trip home was much quieter with only about a third as many players making the return trip while others hitched rides with parents. The initial conversations were about the game, but it didn't take too long for players to put the loss, and Jacksonville Providence behind them.
After a stop at McDonald's where players and coaches seemed to have a problem with a cashier, most players tried to get comfortable enough on the bus to sleep. In fact, besides myself and a player or two, the majority of the bus was silent for more than an hour until we missed a turn in Waldo and had to turn around.
That's when talk turned to stories about growing up in Chiefland athletics. Many of the yarns centered around the habits of one individual who'll go unnamed here, but apparently would eat anything and everything.
We pulled into the school about 1:40 a.m. and my old body was happy to finally get off the bus.
A special thanks to the Chiefland baseball team for its hospitality in letting a scribe such as myself hitch a ride.
It, like the smell, is something I'll never forget.