When the Road Warriors came to Sugar Land four weeks ago they brought with them five former Skeeters players and a coach.
The six of them outnumbered the five returning players on the Skeeters roster. (The number of returning Skeeters players dropped by one in the middle of the weeklong series when Sugar Land let pitcher Brett Marshall go.)
It wasn’t by accident that such a high number of former Skeeters fill the pitching staff for the Road Warriors. Credit for that goes to Pitching Coach Rafael “Raffy” Montalvo, who was with Sugar Land for two seasons before Manager Pete Incaviglia arrived in the offseason and cleaned house.
“I did bring (them),” Montalvo said in an interview while the Road Warriors were in Sugar Land. “I know those guys a lot – A.J. (Andrew Johnston), Chris (Treibt), (Zech) Zinicola, I know what they’re capable to do, especially with the guys that are pitchers, and I know they’re good pitchers, so I believe in them. Those guys did a great job for me in the past. I’m glad to have them on my side. Every place I go, if I have a job I will take them with me because those guys are very loyal.”
The players said they are happy to play under Montalvo.
“Raffy, he was a pitching coach last year, and bullpen coach and everything,” Treibt said. “He’s done a great job, he’s reached out to the guys that were Skeeters, and something happened and he reached out to them and asked them to come play, and who wouldn’t want to play for him? He’s a great guy; he gets us everything that we need and tries to make the best of the situation. Great guy! I’m very blessed to have an opportunity to play for him. And (Road Warriors Manager) Ellie Rodriguez, he’s right there; he’s on top of everything. He said, ‘Raffy, we need these guys, they’re your boys, go get them.’”
As is the case in professional baseball, changes happen. On June 25 the Road Warriors parted ways with Montalvo. While he was here last month, Montalvo recalled good times in Sugar Land.
“It’s very nice. Everything’s different in the clubhouse in the hometown, but I know it’s nice here; the way that people treat us,” he said. “I live here, I live in Houston. This is my hometown, it’s not Sugar Land, but I live like 40 minutes away, so for me, I’m glad to be back home in Texas. All the clubbies and everyone treat us well, ’cause I know them well. Even the fans, front office people, they treat us very good. They’re very class people here.”
The Road Warriors are a league-operated traveling team. This is the fourth time the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball has done this in order to make an even number of teams. Last year the Bridgeport Bluefish were disbanded and a team will start next year in High Point, N.C. In the interim, the one-hit wonders are filling in the gap.
Montalvo is in his second stint with the Road Warriors. He said being on the road all season is a challenge.
“It’s tough. You have to be very mentally prepared for this, but this is the second time that I did it. I did it in 2012. I was a Road Warrior before, that’s why, I knew there was going to be a Road Warriors and I knew I wasn’t coming back here, so I applied for the job. I called the president (of the Atlantic League) and the president tell me Ellie Rodriguez is going to be the manager and he requests you to be a pitching coach, so it worked better for that.”
Most of the players said it isn’t easy living on the road for an entire season.
“It’s rough, it’s definitely rough. It’s a lot of traveling, lot of hotel to hotel, bus rides here and there and then van rides here and there,” Treibt said.
Zech Zinicola joined the Road Warriors the day they arrived in Sugar Land. He said being on a road team will be similar to playing ball in the Mexican Leagues.
“It’s similar down in winter ball. Mostly because the places I’ve played, we had a home stadium but we’d be in a hotel and then we travel and be in a hotel. So living in a hotel won’t be any different, but not having a home stadium and having half your games at a place that you know consistently will be the only change,” he said.
Johnston, who spent three and half seasons with the Skeeters, said he isn’t bothered by the travel.
“I don’t mind it. I’ve always liked being on the road,” he said. “I know it’s a grind sometimes because sometimes guys have got their families coming to town and at home you’ve got time to accommodate them, but on the road, that’s where it gets rough. The travel really isn’t that bad. It’s just like any other season in my mind. You just make the necessary adjustments along the way.”
The hard part for him is the food.
“Trying to eat right is kind of hard deal. You’re not able to cook your own food. You just try to scavenge from whatever is open at the time. Other than that, it’s good,” he said.
When the Road Warriors came to town, the roster of former Skeeters included Montalvo, Johnston, Treibt, Zinicola, Jose Ortega, and Kelvin Villa. The returning Skeeters in Sugar Land include Felipe Paulino, Dan Runzler, Albert Cordero, and Anthony Giansanti, along with Marshall, before he was released.
For the visiting former Skeeters, coming back to Constellation Field is as close as they get to having a home stadium.
“It’s different, definitely different, but it’s good to see familiar faces,” Johnston said. “The fans, you know they’re some of the best fans I’ve played for and got to know. Players that I’ve played against and coaching staff, old Max (Mahaffey, team trainer) over there still, and got to see (former manager Gary) Gaetti while he was in town, so I got to see him. Sugar Land is always going to have a special place in my heart. It’s always going to be fun coming back, whether it’s ball or just visiting.”
“Honestly it still feels like home to me,” Treibt said.” It still has that home feeling because I’ve been here so long. It’s a little different walking in on the other side and playing catch on the other side, but I still walk out that same tunnel, you’re still on this beautiful yard, it still feels a little homey to me but right now we don’t have a home, so it’s kinda nice to have that feeling somewhere in the league. This is the closest to home that we can get.”
Zinicola, having just returned to baseball after being released by the Skeeters at the end of last season, had a different perspective.
“The first day was a little different, trying to figure out where the visitors bullpen, visitors dugout, is, but after day one, it’s baseball, you know,” he said. “If you’ve been in the game long enough, you’ve played against guys you’ve played with at some point and you’re switching teams; it’s just part of it. I was just excited to get back into a uniform and throw and I’m glad I had a couple good outings to start for my team’s sake, so it made a good impression to help these boys get on the right path and hopefully we can make a run at the second half here in a couple weeks.”
The Road Warriors pay their second and probably last visit to Sugar Land on Friday for another seven-day series. The first half of the season ended last week with the Skeeters as the best team in the league with a 41-22 record and the Road Warriors with the worst record at 17-46. The former Skeeters are hopeful for a change of fortunes.
“You know, we try every day,” Montalvo said. “We try to get the team better every time. I know when we go on the field all the kids will give you 100 percent, maybe more. But it’s tough because we’re on the road all the time, but I know for a fact that we never quit.”
“We’ve got a good group of guys and a good mix; guys have their head on right and we’re out there competing every day,” Johnston said.
“Things happen for a reason and I’m really happy where I’m at,” Zinicola said. “Pete’s (Incaviglia) got a good ball club going and hopefully we can take a couple wins away from these guys.”