It was the start of my first season at Pacific Lutheran. We were taking what is now our yearly preseason trip to Phoenix to play some baseball games in the sun against some quality opponents.
Now a senior, and after playing far too many games in the rain, I’ve really come to appreciate that Arizona trip.
As we started getting off the bus at Sea-Tac at the departures terminal three years ago, we noticed a larger, much nicer bus pull up behind ours. The University of Washington softball team, the reigning national champions, started filing off the bus.
On that Husky softball team was Danielle Lawrie. She was the returning National Player of the Year and would go on to win the award that year as well. She had won just about every softball award imaginable.
We had all seen her play in the NCAA Div. I Softball World Series the year before. We were in awe.
As we checked into the airport and printed our boarding passes, we obviously noticed the UW softball team was heading to a gate that was at least close to ours. When it was time to board, they got in the same line as us. We were going to Arizona on the same plane as the national champions.
"We would like to welcome the University of Washington softball team today," a flight attendant said over the intercom. "And also the PLU baseball team," she mumbled.
That is when it started — NCAA Div. III (D3) problems.
D3 athletes are supposed to be students first and athletes second. Sports are supposed to be secondary. Whether we buy into that philosophy or not, the translation is simple: your small school team doesn’t get nearly the funding of larger schools.
I want to be clear — I’m not complaining. I have loved every second of my four-year baseball career at PLU and no dime could change that. But D3 problems, as many others and I have coined it, is something that everyone can laugh at.
And over my time at PLU, I have humorously noticed my share of these problems.
After the flight to Phoenix landed, we all made our way to the baggage claim. As we and the UW softball team watched the endless stream of baseball and softball bags pass, one of our junior catchers spotted his bag. Lawrie noticed hers.
Our catcher walked right in front of Lawrie, who could be deemed a "celebrity," cutting her off and almost causing a collision.
"Freshmen…" she said to our coach as she shook her head.
Once we finished laughing and had collected our bags, we crammed onto the shuttle bus. The bus took us to the car rental center to pick up our white vans — driven by the coaching staff — that would provide our transportation over the next five days.
We watched the Husky softball team board their charter bus and go on their way.
When we drive anywhere in Arizona, we drive in a caravan. The three vans drive behind each other primarily because only our head coach in the front van knows where we are going.
Last year in Arizona, my junior year, we were driving from one of our games and my van — the trail van — got lost. It became apparent that we weren’t the only ones driving white vans in Phoenix.
We had accidentally started following a random white van. It wasn’t until we pulled into the parking lot of a grocery store that we realized we had no idea where we were.
It didn’t take long to eventually find our way, but the story is still told among the team.
When we fly to Arizona, we have to pay out of pocket for any bags we check, meaning most of us cram our uniforms and any clothes we need into our two carry-on bags.
As we passed through the security checkpoint this year, some of us discussed how nice it would be to check our bags so we weren’t forced to carry our heavy, on-the-brink-of-exploding bags around.
At that same time, the Seattle University men’s basketball team walked by carrying nothing but their phones and iPods. The school presumably paid to check their bags.
Five of the nine teams in the Northwest Conference are in the Portland/Salem region — George Fox, Linfield, Pacific, Willamette and Lewis and Clark. When we play at one of those schools, we always stay in the same hotel in Tigard. So do various other sports teams from different schools.
Last weekend, we stayed at that hotel. So did the PLU softball team. So did the Whitworth women’s basketball team, which won the NWC tournament. So did the Puget Sound baseball team. It was a busy hotel.
Continental breakfast is served in a small banquet room in the hotel. On Saturday and Sunday morning we shared the room with the Whitworth women’s basketball team.
The dynamic created by a baseball team and women’s basketball team from rival schools sharing breakfast together can only be described as awkward.
After breakfast Saturday morning, a few teammates and I stepped into the elevator to go up to our rooms. Before the door began to close, a UPS baseball player walked around the corner obviously intending to use the elevator.
Once he saw the four us in PLU baseball attire, he attempted to casually turn around like he forgot something. He was no actor. If I went to UPS I wouldn’t want to uncomfortably ride in an elevator with four PLU baseball players either.
I doubt the University of Washington baseball team ever stays in the same hotel as Washington State.
Two seasons ago, we played Willamette in Salem during a monsoon. Because of travel and money, it is imperative to fit all conference games in during the weekend. It is expensive and difficult to find time during the season for a makeup conference game.
The game started that Sunday at 12:15 p.m. It didn’t finish until 6:47 p.m. The game took more than six-and-a-half hours after several lengthy rain delays. That was, and always will be, the longest game I have ever played.
We call them D3 problems, but in reality they aren’t problems at all. They are minor hiccups that come with the territory of playing collegiate athletics, which we are all grateful for.
If anything, they provide fun stories that will be remembered forever.
I will never forget cramming into those white vans, luggage stuffed to the ceiling, with my best friends — knowing that we got to spend the next five days in what was essentially baseball paradise — Arizona.
I will never forget the fun memories staying in that Tigard hotel, counting down the minutes until curfew when we all have to go back to our rooms.
I will never forget the opportunity I was given to be a part of something bigger than myself, to represent this university.