It’s one thing to go on the road and win a series against a conference rival, but it’s a whole new ballgame when every game you play is on the road.
That is what Seton Hall is forced to deal with in 2019, as Owen T. Carroll is out of commission for the season. With their home ballpark undergoing renovations, the Pirates will take their show on the road for the duration of the year as they try to build on a 2018 season that nearly culminated in the program’s first Big East title since 2011.
“We try not to focus it, you’re going to have to play some away games,” coach Rob Sheppard said. “For us, it’s really just taking it a game at a time. We’re taking that road warrior mentality, just go out and control what you can. We can’t do anything about playing away from home because we don’t have a home field. Those are things that our beyond what we can control, so we tell our guys to stay focused on the process, preparing, getting ready to play and putting more emphasis on things that we can control.”
Finding places to play in 2019 was an exhaustive process that included many deciding factors. In the end, Sheppard and the administration decided on the Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island for a handful of games and Jack Kaiser Stadium on the campus of St. John’s in Queens as the program’s primary home during Big East play.
“We looked everywhere,” Sheppard said. “The administration was great in figuring out what we could do to accommodate a home field. There’s a lot of things that come into play. There’s a lot of places we can play. The biggest factor was continuity. We didn’t want to play on a Friday in one place and a Saturday somewhere else. Trying to find a venue where you can play a three-game set was more of the challenge. Finding a place to play wasn’t as hard as finding a place where you can play all three games.”
As for Seton Hall’s use of St. John’s facilities, the Pirates be playing in Queens when the Johnnies hit the road in Big East play. On the surface, two conference rivals and two of the best programs in the Big East sharing a facility seems like an unlikely scenario, but for Seton Hall, it was the perfect storm.
“We’re pretty fortunate that within conference, St John’s isn’t too far away and their in-conference weekends, we were able to take advantage of using another Big East facility that we knew would be a good facility to use,” Sheppard said. “The St. John’s coach is my brother-in-law, so it was kind of like ‘hey, what’s going on, mind if we use your field?’.”
Field maintenance also played a role in Seton Hall’s decision to settle on Staten Island and Jack Kaiser Stadium. It’s impossible to predict the weather throughout the spring and a rainy day could potentially wipe out a poorly-maintained natural surface. In vetting all options, Sheppard made sure that his team would be playing at a well-kept turf facility that could handle inclement weather.
“Sometimes you get a natural surface and just like it was last spring, if we get any type of weather, if it’s not physically your home field, you’re limited and you’re at the mercy of the venue,” Sheppard said. “If they don’t tarp the field and weather comes, it’s out of our hands, whereas if you can find a turf facility, weather isn’t as much of a factor.”
Playing every game on the road will undoubtedly be an adjustment for the team. Northeastern programs spend a lot of time traveling throughout the season, but nothing can compare to what lies ahead for Seton Hall. After a couple of games, it will likely become business as usual for the upperclassmen, but the same cannot be said for the freshmen, who have to adjust to the travel that comes along with baseball overall.
“We all love traveling and we’ve done so much traveling over the last two years,” junior starting pitcher Ricky DeVito said. “The freshmen might find it a little weird because the traveling is one of the adjustments of college baseball. It’s a lot of work, especially for Northeast teams. We barely play at home. Now, legit having no home games, it’s going to be a little weird, but I don’t think it’ll make a difference. We’re still going to play baseball. We’re going to be on a baseball field wherever we’re going. We might not have Seton Hall’s field to play on, but I don’t think it will make a difference for us.”
“The adjustment is going to be balancing classwork with the Tuesday and Wednesday games,” Sheppard said. “The challenge is going to be the balancing act between academics and traveling to games. Our team has done really well in that regard. Overall, our GPA is about a 3.4 with 35 guys. They understand the importance of working hard on and off the field and in the classroom. I think that would be the biggest part, managing their time that way.”
It’s not ideal, but playing on the road is simply something Seton Hall is going to have to deal with in 2019. There’s no way around it, but playing on the road for the duration of the season could have its benefits in the end. Battle-tested road teams are usually well-equipped to handle postseason play better than those who dominated in the comfort of their own home, but struggled on the road.
Seton Hall’s end goal is to win a Big East title and return to the NCAA Tournament. All of the road games the Pirates have to play may prepare The Hall for what it takes to bring home a championship and reach the big dance for the first time in over a decade.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.