QUINCY — The Hannibal Hoots players all looked at team general manager Matt Stembridge as he gave them unfortunate news.
Most of the players hadn’t been in town for more than 24 hours when Stembridge informed the team playing home games on the Prospect League schedule at Clemens Field in Hannibal, Mo., wasn’t possible until at least the end of June because of the extensive damage caused by the Mississippi River flooding. Instead, the Hoots would have a temporary home at QU Stadium, home of the Quincy Gems.
Stembridge offered if any player wanted to find another to play baseball for the summer for because of the unforeseen events, he’d help them do so.
No Hoots player left the room.
“I think we’re close knit and we like to have fun in the dugout,” Hoots outfielder Jared Wegner said. “At that point when we had that meeting, everyone was kind of locked in. No one wanted to leave or leave Hannibal.”
Since that meeting, things didn’t get better as the Hoots announced in June they’d play the remaining home schedule at QU Stadium. For the second time in three years, there wouldn’t be baseball at Clemens Field.
That closeness the players have has helped them through a season playing without a home.
On the road
The pregame routine is virtually the same for the Hoots, regardless if they’re the home or road team on the scoreboard.
Each day, the Hoots load up on a bus in Hannibal and make the drive north to Quincy. The Hoots load up onto the same bus when the team travels to other Prospect League sites like Cape Girardeau, Springfield, Ill., or Normal, Ill.
“We’re nomads,” Hoots manager Clayton Hicks said. “It is tough and it has been a tough season for the guys because they didn’t sign on to travel and be on the road every day.”
Hicks didn’t want to use the constant travel as an excuse, but it certainly puts the Hoots at a disadvantage.
It doesn’t allow Hicks or the other Hoots coaches to get work done with players before games. That time is spent traveling.
It also leaves the Hoots without a clubhouse where the players can hang out, listen to music, play games, build camaraderie and all the other things that go with playing baseball in the summer.
Instead, that’s done on the bus traveling to and from games or in the dugout. However, the Hoots have access to fitness centers in Hannibal.
“I think we’re growing used to it because it’s something we’ve just had to overcome,” Wegner said. “It’s definitely not ideal, but it’s not the worse.
The Hoots have managed to find ways to spend more time together by hanging out at host families homes or other places around Hannibal.
“We still talk to the guys and learn about each other,” Wegner said. “It’s all the things we would do in a clubhouse, but it’s just on a bus. Those kinds of things bring us together.”
Not only are the Hoots playing in a different ballpark for their home games, the atmosphere is different, too.
The Hoots fans have been in fewer numbers than they were at Clemens Field in the club’s inaugural season. Last summer, Hannibal totaled 15,562 spectators in 28 home games for an average of 556 per game. That average ranked ninth of 11 teams in the league as the Butler BlueSox and Champion City Kings averaged 500 or fewer fans per contest.
This season, however, is different.
Hannibal has drawn 1,716 fans in 14 home games and are averaging just 123 per game. Both rank last out of 12 teams in the Prospect League. By comparison, the Gems have totaled 17,575 fans in 19 home games and average 925 per contest.
“It just feels like there’s a disconnect from Hannibal,” Wegner said. “There’s definitely not as many people there as it would be if we were at Clemens Field.”
The Hoots understand it’s difficult for Hannibal fans to want to make the trip, especially on work nights. Clemens Field’s location in downtown Hannibal made it convenient for fans wanting to catch a game.
The diehard fans, players’ parents and host families are usually the regulars to attend Hoots’ home games. Sponsored nights draws people from those companies, too.
All those things considered, the Hoots appreciate those fans that make the trip to Quincy.
“We’re thankful for the fans that have come out and supported us,” Hicks said. “The Quincy staff has been extremely helpful in letting us play here. It’s just one of those things where no one is going to feel sorry for ourselves, so we have to move on.”
Where the Hoots have been most frustrated is playing against the Gems and the crowd being pro-Quincy even when Hannibal is the designated home team.
“I think it’d definitely be nice to have the game when we play against Quincy at home,” Wegner said. “It’s frustrating when you’re technically the home team but the other team has more fans there.”
Only a few players, pitcher Dylan Chisholm and infielder Joe Roscetti, played at Clemens Field last summer and know what’s missing from not playing there. Daunte DeCello also played at Clemens Field for the Hoots, but suffered an injury last week.
For them, still getting to play baseball was the most important thing.
“I was iffy on it at first, sure,” DeCello said. “But nothing’s going to change. It’s still baseball.”
That’s what the entire team is focused on.
While Hicks worried not getting work in before games with players was a disadvantage, the players have taken the liberty to get work in. For instance, a group of players go to batting cages around town to get extra swings in.
“You have to get your reps in,” Wegner said. “You have to have that determination to get your work in. You’re definitely on your own, and I think that’s a part of being accountable.”
The Hoots, however, are still looking forward to coming home.
The plan is to have the field cleaned up well before the start of next year’s Prospect League season. There’s just three more weeks to grind through.
“It’s tough because there’s definitely no place like playing at home,” Hicks said. “Last year, for me, we grew so fondly of Clemens Field.”