Harrison Musgrave and Kyle Freeland have learned to appreciate home cooking.
That’s because the two Albuquerque Isotopes pitchers went months without a taste of it as members of the nomadic Hartford Yard Goats.
The Yard Goats have gained notoriety this season as a first-year Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. Their home field, Dunkin’ Donuts Park, remains under construction and tied up in red tape as the Goats endure a road trip that never ends.
Musgrave and Freeland escaped the perpetual life on the road by being promoted to the Triple-A Isotopes. Musgrave arrived in Albuquerque in late May, but Freeland joined the ‘Topes only last week. He pitched six innings against Salt Lake on Saturday in his first true home appearance of the season.
“It was nice to actually hear fans cheering you on,” Freeland said before the Isotopes’ Tuesday night home game vs. Salt Lake. “Technically, we played as the home team sometimes with Hartford, but the fans weren’t on our side. We were the Road Goats.”
The irony of playing for the Yard Goats — a team with no yard — is not lost on the players. Still, there’s a sense of honor involved with the seasonlong endurance test.
“We tried to pull together and make the situation as good as we could,” Musgrave said. “There were some positives, like not having to pay rent and pocketing a little more money. We stayed at some nice hotels close to the ballparks, too. But after a while it wears on you. I don’t mind paying rent here.”
The Rockies and the Yard Goats organizations have taken unusual steps to accommodate players, who remarkably have posted a winning record (41-33) going into Tuesday night’s game at New Hampshire. For example, a large Penske truck loaded with extra clothing and gear follows the team from stop to stop.
“You can only fit so much in a suitcase,” Musgrave said. “So you go into the truck and trade out clothes or whatever you need. Of course, sometimes the truck made it to our hotel, sometimes it didn’t. You never really knew.”
Clubhouse attendants also handled a lot more laundry than usual, including players’ personal clothing. But neither Musgrave nor Freeland took full advantage of that perk.
“They had washers and dryers at some of our hotels,” Freeland said, “so I did my own laundry. I couldn’t put the clubbies through that.”
Both players said uncertainty was the most difficult part of playing exclusively on the road. The Yard Goats played a few “home” games at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn., and initially expected to be playing in Hartford by June.
Instead, construction issues continued to plague Dunkin’ Donuts Park through the start of short-season ball in Norwich. Dodd Stadium was no longer available, and Hartford’s series were switched to road sites.
“It’s hard to get into a routine,” Freeland said, “and that’s a big thing for baseball players.”
Still, the Goats have tried to make the most of their situation. So, Musgrave said, have a group of diehard fans who were looking forward to seeing baseball in Hartford this summer. They made road trips of roughly two to three hours to show support for the wandering Yard Goats.
“There was about 20 random fans who came to some of our games in (Manchester) New Hampshire,” he said. “They made as much noise as they could. You had to appreciate fans like that.”
Both Freeland and Musgrave also tipped their caps to the players who remain on the Double-A roster.
“If it had to happen,” Freeland said, “this is the right group for it to happen to. A lot of those guys have been together a couple years, and they get along really well.”
Still, neither pitcher was disappointed to trade their Yard Goats gear for an actual home yard in Albuquerque.
“It’s always nice to advance,” Freeland said, “and this is just six hours away from my hometown of Denver. So, yeah, it’s a relief to be here, and this is a beautiful home park.”