UA baseball coach Jay Johnson: "You look around the past three weeks and see the smiles on their faces and pictures they're taking, and I'm comfortable saying they're having the time of their lives while playing good baseball." (Photo: Arizona Athletics)
UA baseball coach Jay Johnson: "You look around the past three weeks and see the smiles on their faces and pictures they're taking, and I'm comfortable saying they're having the time of their lives while playing good baseball." (Photo: Arizona Athletics)

Road Warriors: UA Baseball and Its 12,000-Mile Journey

The Wildcats, a surprise success this season, are only two wins away from reaching the College World Series.
June 8, 2016
Extra Info: 

The Wildcats will play a best-of-three series against Mississippi State beginning Friday at 3 p.m. (MST) on ESPN2. For more information about the team, visit its Twitter site, Facebook page and full schedule.

The journey began a little before 9 a.m. on May 19.

It has spanned more than 12,000 miles, 13 games, six states and a whole lot of nights in hotel rooms. But for the University of Arizona baseball team, the past three-plus weeks have been an opportunity and trip of a lifetime.

"We're road warriors," said UA freshman catcher Cesar Salazar. "We love the competition. We don't pay attention to details like how much we've traveled or how long we've been on the road. We're just here to win games and play our best baseball."

And that's what life has been like for Salazar and the Wildcats since going to Eugene, Oregon, on May 19 for a three-game series against the University of Oregon. From there, Arizona returned to Tucson for two games against Abilene Christian before heading to Honolulu for a three-game series against the University of Hawaii.

Arizona then traveled to Louisiana for NCAA regional play, before arriving in Mississippi for the Super Regionals. In total, the Wildcats have racked up 12,177 miles — give or take a few — and find themselves two wins away from another road trip, this one to the mecca of college baseball: Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series.

"They've been as professional as they possibly can be in terms of taking each game, each trip, one at a time," first-year head coach Jay Johnson said of his team. "They are really doing it well. They are focusing on the task at hand at a high level. Their play is a result of that."

The journey began with a direct flight from Tucson to Portland, Oregon, a trip of 1,382 miles.

The team then bused 124 miles to Eugene. After winning the third game, Arizona bused back to Portland to board a flight bound for Phoenix. A late-night bus ride from Phoenix to Tucson (114 miles) got the team back in the wee hours of May 23.

The Wildcats then won a pair of home games at Hi Corbett Field against Abilene Christian. A 4:30 a.m. departure to the airport awaited the team on the morning of May 26 to close out the regular season in Hawaii against the Rainbow Warriors. The team had a brief layover in Los Angeles before arriving in Hawaii.

Arizona took care of business on the islands, sweeping Hawaii, while also getting to enjoy a few hours of relaxation on the beaches of Waikiki.

"I never expected that I would get to travel to Hawaii at such a young age," Salazar said. "That has definitely been the most fun stop on this tour. I think everyone has loved all the travel. We get to go new places and play against quality teams."

After beating Hawaii in the series finale, Arizona took a red-eye flight from Honolulu to Denver, where a layover of four-plus hours awaited. The team watched the NCAA tournament selection show at Denver International Airport, learning that the next stop on its odyssey would be Lafayette, Louisiana.

The Wildcats arrived back in Tucson late in the day on May 30 for a stay of only about 36 hours. On June 1, it was time to head to Lafayette to start regional play.

"It's been tough at times, but you don't really notice you've been to so many places when you're going through it," said sophomore center fielder Jared Oliva. "We're just so focused on baseball and winning games that no one is hung up on how long we've been on the road."

The team flew to New Orleans on June 1 and practiced at night at Tulane University before a bus ride to Lafayette to start the postseason. The Wildcats won three games in nearly 27 hours to advance to the Super Regionals against Mississippi State.

"I've been really impressed with how we've handled it all," Oliva said. "I'm really proud of the team. We're still playing our game and giving it our best effort."

The Wildcats bused to Starkville, Mississippi, on June 7, arriving just before midnight. The best-of-three series against Mississippi State begins Friday at 3 p.m. (MST) and will be carried on ESPN2.

"You look around the past three weeks and see the smiles on their faces and pictures they're taking," Johnson said, "and I'm comfortable saying they're having the time of their lives while playing good baseball."

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