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Published September 14 2010

Northern League Championship Series: RedHawks put on major miles in quest for title

The life of minor league baseball players has been eternally linked with the open road. Monotonous card games and baseball chit chat was almost all players had to keep busy on long, cramped bus rides.

But things have changed in the Northern League.

This is Minor League Baseball 2.0.

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks are one of a handful teams in the independent baseball league with a luxury bus fully equipped with sleeping quarters, satellite television and Wi-fi capability. Not to mention the array of iPods and personal video game systems.

“It definitely makes it easier for the players,” said RedHawks infielder Jeremiah Piepkorn, whose team takes on the Kansas City T-Bones at 7:05 p.m. tonight in Game 1 of the Northern League Championship Series at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kan.. “… We still complain about it, because that’s what we like to joke about. But (life on the road) is just one of those things that you have to deal with when you accept this job.”

The defending Northern League champion RedHawks have put plenty of miles on their luxury charter in the past month.

The team spent the final 12 days of the regular season bouncing from Winnipeg to Joliet, Ill., to Kansas City.

They traveled back home for a pair of games against Gary SouthShore before hitting the road for Gary, Ind., to complete the three-game sweep of the RailCats in the first round of the Northern League playoffs.

From there, the RedHawks traveled to Kansas City to begin the five-game championship series.

That’s more than 3,000 miles on the bus in a handful of days.

But that’s life in the Northern League.

RedHawks manager Josh Buchholz said the team will put on about 12,000 miles on the bus this season.

However, Buchholz said the NL has done everything it can the last few seasons to limit bus time by scheduling extended trips for locations close in close proximity.

Fargo-Moorhead logged about 17,000 miles in 2008 and about 14,000 last season, Buchholz said.

And all the recent travel hasn’t negatively affected the team.

“My team has been very resilient this season,” F-M manager Doug Simunic said. “I’ve never heard they say anything about being worn down or tired. Our team has always been able to focus on playing the next game.”

That next game will be a match of the league’s top two teams in the regular season.

Kansas City, which finished three games behind the RedHawks in the regular-season standings, has a loaded lineup with power at almost every position.

The RedHawks have been typically potent at the plate, but a standout pitching staff was the catalyst for much of the team’s 61 wins.

The T-Bones tied F-M for the best home record in the Northern League at 30-20. However, the RedHawks finished an NL-best 31-19 on the road.

“I really do like our chances,” Piepkorn said.

The T-Bones host the first two games of the series today and Wednesday.

Then it’s back on the bus Thursday to travel home for the rest of the series at Newman Outdoor Field in Fargo. Game 3 is scheduled for 7:02 p.m. Friday. If necessary, Game 4 will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Game 5 will be 6 p.m. on Sunday.

“It’s great for the guys to be able to watch television, have Wi-Fi for their computers and all that,” Buchholz said of life on the road. “But they still play cards sometimes like the old days.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com.