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Road trip points Suns in right direction

April 23, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

One man's adventure is another man's reality.

The Hagerstown Suns left town last week looking to strike out and find an identity as a visiting baseball team. They found out that life on the road is no vacation.

The Suns finished their first road trip with a 4-3 record, but discovered that playing away from home has its share of potholes. It almost made returning to antiquated Municipal Stadium a welcome sight, even though the trip gave the Suns and manager Gene Richards some perspective for the future.

"To be the top dog, you are going to be hunted," Richards said Friday after Hagerstown's return to town against Delmarva was rained out after an hour delay. "That means you have to bring your 'A' game every night."

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The Suns and Shorebirds, the top two teams in the South Atlantic League's North Division, will play a doubleheader today, beginning at 5:35 p.m.

Hagerstown has had its way at home, going 7-0 at Municipal Stadium to open the season. The adventure started when the Suns helped open West Virginia's new stadium and managed a split with the Power. Then they took two of three from Lakewood.

Hagerstown was forced to play from behind in most of those games and the Suns didn't come off as polished as when they played at home.

"The guys didn't seem to play well in front of the opposing crowd," Richards said. "We talked about that and I think they got more relaxed. It bothered me the way they played. I thought they gave up at times. We made a lot of mistakes. During the season you want to progress, not regress."

Part of the concern stems from the fact that the Suns have played all 14 of their games against West Virginia and Lakewood, the bottom two teams in the SAL North with a combined 5-23 record. The competition could get stiffer in the next week, facing second-place Delmarva and third-place Lake County in the next eight games.

"Playing on the road is different. Those teams were much better when they were playing at home," Richards said. "They gave us all we could handle. What concerns me (about facing two teams so far) is it leads to a false sense of security. We don't know anything about or how we match up with the other teams."

Even with an 11-3 start, the Suns showed they aren't perfect. There are still some flaws to fix and room for improvement.

But in baseball adages, Hagerstown is ahead of the pace for a successful year.

"If you play .500 on the road, that's the mark of a good club," Richards said. "We went 4-3 and the team persevered. I feel much better about this team because it was tested on the road. You expect to win a good percentage of the games at home, but I wanted to see how they reacted playing in hostile areas and they persevered."

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