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The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, August 11, 2005

By Bethany Bradsher

Route to MLB begins off the beaten path


Endless bus rides to destinations that are sometimes difficult to find on a map. Wacky promotions at the gate and on the field, often between every inning. Mascots (Lansing Lugnuts, Clinton Lumberkings) that only a true fan could love.

If the major league is The Show, then playing in the Class A affiliates of the minor leagues is the warm-up act to the warm-up act. And it’s the life that Trevor Lawhorn has been leading, 700 miles away from home, since early April.

Lawhorn, a former standout for the Pirates, was drafted in the ninth round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2004 after his team-leading 21 home runs helped East Carolina make it to the NCAA Regionals. His first outpost was Billings, Montana, with the Reds’ rookie level team, the Billings Mustangs.

When he moved up to the Dayton Dragons this season, Lawhorn was pleased not only because it represented a step up the baseball ladder, but because while he was in Billings, the middle of nowhere seemed to be right around the corner.

“The shortest bus trip from Billings was five hours away,” said Lawhorn, who starred for Barton College before joining his brother Darryl at ECU in 2003.

The only North Carolinian on the Dragons roster, Lawhorn has been teased about his Southern accent and spends days off either catching up on sleep or playing golf, he said, because there isn’t much else to do in Dayton. Hotels in places like Napierville, Ill., and Battle Creek, Mich., have started to seem like friends. His days become monotonous, he said. Sleep. Eat. Play baseball. Repeat.

“You really don’t know what day it is,” he said. “You just go out and do the same thing every day.”

What follows is a snapshot of a week in the life of a Pirate-turned-Dragon slugging it out in the Midwest:

   • Thursday, August 4: The Dragons, struggling at the bottom of the Eastern Division of the Midwest League with a 17-29 record, pull out a 10-5 win over the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards. Lawhorn, taking a turn as the team’s designated hitter, is 1-for-4 with one run.

   • Friday, August 5: “I woke up around 1 o'clock because there is pretty much nothing else to do besides sleep, before going to the ballpark,” Lawhorn wrote in an e-mail.

After lunch near the University of Dayton with some teammates, Lawhorn arrives at the ballpark at 2 p.m., five hours before game time. The Dragons players “slowly get ready” for stretching at 3:30 p.m., then take batting practice, go inside the clubhouse for dinner and then return to the field for infield practice before the game.

The Dragons lose to the Wizards 7-1 before a home crowd of more than 8,000. Manager Alonzo Powell opts not to put Lawhorn in the lineup.

   • Saturday, August 6: Lawhorn and his team board the bus for a five-and-a-half hour trip to Napierville, Illinois, where they will play a four-game series against the Kane County Cougars.

“We have a really nice bus,” said Lawhorn, whose longest road trip with the Dragons has been about nine hours. “They take really good care of us.”

In the series opener, Kane County dominates Dayton 15-4, with Lawhorn playing second base and again going 1-for-4 at the plate.

   • Sunday, August 7: Another lopsided loss for the Dragons, with the Cougars prevailing 10-4. Lawhorn, playing as the designated hitter, goes 1-for-4 for the third time and steals a base.

   • Monday, August 8: On his third day in a Napierville hotel, Lawhorn sleeps until 12:30 p.m., then goes to get lunch with his hotel roommate and arrives at the ballpark for a similar routine to the one for home games.

A 7-6 loss to Kane County follows, with Lawhorn cheering his teammates on from the bench.

   • Tuesday, August 9: The last game of the series resulted in an unfortunate sweep for the Cougars, but this 11-10 loss produced Lawhorn’s best offensive game of the week. He notched a clutch homer and a timely triple. The RBI triple in the sixth tied the game 8-8 and the two-run home run in the eighth gave his team a short-lived 10-8 lead.

The home run, Lawhorn’s third of the season, improves his batting average to .242.

   • Wednesday, August 10: Lawhorn’s father and his brother Darryl, who spent three seasons with the Pirates and has been in New Bern rehabilitating a knee injury, arrive in Dayton for a visit just in time for Lawhorn’s only free day of the week.

Unless the Dragons put together an extraordinary winning streak in the next few weeks and make the playoffs, Lawhorn’s season will end on Sept. 5. With three semesters left before he completes his bachelor’s degree in communications, he will leave Dayton for Greenville to make an immediate transition from second baseman to full-time ECU student.

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02/23/2007 01:11:35 AM

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