In February, just as the Page High School baseball team was about to begin its season, the earth sunk.
A landslide ripped through U.S. 89 25 miles south of town, creating a massive sinkhole that swallowed up about 500 feet of pavement. The Arizona Department of Transportation immediately closed a 23-mile stretch of the highway.
Given that Page is located at the northern tip of Arizona and has to travel south to play most of its games, the sinkhole became a blinking and obnoxious detour sign. Instead of hopping on U.S. 89, the baseball team has been forced to take state route 98 east and then double back on U.S. 160 headed west, a delay of at least an hour.
It’s good practice if Page’s kids want to be long-distance haulers. Other than that …
“I think we’ve traveled around 4,500 miles this year,” said coach Alex Randel. “We spend a lot of time in vans.”
The travel delays — the team’s shortest trip is about 90 minutes — hasn’t hurt Page’s performance. It began the week 7-1 in region play and, as the No. 14 seed in Division III, will open the state playoffs against No. 19 Snowflake on Tuesday in Surprise.
“The travel for these guys, it’s pretty amazing,” Randel said. “But they haven’t been affected by it.”
Still, it’s exhausting just to hear Randel describe the team’s itinerary. A trip to Flagstaff that was a mere two hours now takes 3½ hours. When Page traveled to Bullhead City for the first game of the season, it had to go north around Las Vegas and then back south.
“That was about a six-hour drive,” Randel said. “We got off the bus and won the game, 11-3.”
The kids handle the travel better than the coach. They do homework for the first two hours of every trip — “usually we have a study hall session going on,” Randel said — munch on snacks their parents gave them, put on headphones and fall asleep.
Meanwhile, Randel is counting the miles. He still has trouble believing Page’s travelogue in a seven-day span two weeks ago:
Saturday, April 13: Leave at 6 a.m. for 200-mile trip to Chinle. Play a doubleheader beginning at noon (Page won both games). Get back home at around 10 p.m.
Sunday: Off day.
Monday: Play Flagstaff at home. (Thank goodness).
Tuesday: Bus to Tuba City, about 1½ hours away, and beat Greyhills Academy.
Wednesday: Practice at home.
Thursday: Leave at 6 a.m. — again – for a game against Payson at 3 p.m. at Salt River Fields. Win, 6-1, get back on the bus and arrive at school a little after 12:30 a.m.
Friday: Somehow, kids all make it to school by the 7:55 a.m. bell. Board bus at 10:30 a.m. to go to Kayenta to play Monument Valley. Get home at 9 p.m.
Saturday: Play doubleheader against Mohave. Lose both games (is it any wonder?).
Sunday: Collapse in exhaustion.
“We tried to figure it out,” Randel said. “I think we went around 1,800 miles just that week.”
And to think, some Valley coaches complain when they have to drive from the East Valley to the West Valley.
The postseason won’t be any easier on Page — or the school’s travel costs. Every state tournament game will be held at the Surprise Recreation Campus in the West Valley. That means at least one — and if Page is fortunate — multiple five-hour-plus bus rides.
“We’ll just keep taking that big gigantic loop as long as we can,” Randel said.
Here’s the kicker: There are some dirt roads south of town Page could take to connect to U.S. 89 and cut its detour down to a half hour. But school vehicles have to stay on pavement. So, it’s east on state route 98, west on U.S. 160 and pray the players wake up by their first at-bat.
And you thought travel delays caused by the sequester were bad.
Try dealing with a sinkhole.
Reach Bordow at email@example.com or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.